MusicWatch Monthly: A harvest feast

Stay warm with a smorgasbord of chamber music, choral music and art songs, and orchestras aplenty

Music for chambers

This weekend, Sunday the 3rd, local cellist Diane Chaplin brings her solo show Il Violoncello Capriccioso to Weisenbloom House, a lovely little salon in Southeast Portland. The present author first encountered Chaplin in 2011, when she joined Lewis & Clark gamelan Venerable Showers of Beauty for a performance of Lou Harrison’s deliriously melodic hybrid masterpiece Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Javanese Gamelan. Chaplin spends most of her time playing with Portland Cello Project and The Unpresidented Brass Band, but she just got back from a summer in Italy and she’s ready to show off her evening of cappricios by Klengel, Piatti, and Cambini, along with Ernest Bloch’s Suite No. 3 and works by Alan Chaplin, Michal Stahel, and Aaron Minsky.

Local classical organization Friends of Chamber Music, as their name implies, specializes in inviting established chamber ensembles and soloists to perform in Portland. Last month, it was Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, and you can read Katie Taylor’s take on that fine performance right here.

This month, FOCM brings the Danish String Quartet to Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall for two evenings of Bach, Beethoven, Schnittke, Shostakovich, and Webern on November 4th & 5th. Despite the lack of contemporary composers, that’s a pretty nice program: miscellaneous Bach (including a Well-Tempered Clavier arrangement done by Mozart in a fit of enthusiastic reverence) and two rather Bachish late Beethoven quartets (127 and 135) provide the traditionalist foundation; Webern’s austere and terrifying pre-serial quartet of 1905 and Schnittke’s thorny, polystilistic third quartet provide contrarian modernist counterpoint. Snuggled morbidly between them, Shosty’s moribund final quartet.

In some ways, 45th Parallel is a Portland in-joke. The music organization existed for a decade under the leadership of Oregon Symphony violinist Greg Ewer, and was famous for responding to criticism of their programming with radical listening and new approaches to living music. Last year, Ewer’s fellow OSO violinist Ron Blessinger took the reins after spending years helming another Portland new music institution, Third Angle. Blessinger turned 45th Parallel into a Universe: a collective of the city’s premiere new music enthusiasts, drawn mostly from the ranks of the Oregon Symphony and organized into constellations of chamber ensembles.

Two of those constellations perform a pair of back-to-back hour-long concerts November 8th at The Old Church. In the first, Viva la Femme, mousai REMIX performs string quartet music by four women composers: Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke, Dame Ethyl Smith, and Ruth Crawford Seeger. Right after that, it’s Primordial Swamp, featuring a concatenation of various 45|| satellite members performing Bohuslav Martinů’s Nonet, Ernst von Dohnányi’s Sextet in C for piano, strings and winds, and Reza Vali’s Folk Songs for flute and cello.

At The Old Church on November 11th, another of Portland’s new music collectives–the dauntless Fear No Music–commemorates one of Portland’s most notorious hate crimes, the 1988 murder of Ethiopian college student Mulugeta Seraw by white supremacists, with The F Word: Mulugeta Seraw. Local composer Ryan Francis composed an original octet (flute, clarinet, string quartet, piano, percussion), Night Walk, for this concert, which also features David Bruce’s Gumboot for clarinet and string quartet. Last time FNM did one of these (last month’s Kavanaugh-themed Hearings), they had to hire security to keep trolls at bay–because if you’re not pissing someone off, you’re doing it wrong.

One area organization puts living local composers front-and-center: Cascadia Composers. Their concerts traverse a variety of central themes: just in the last couple years they’ve commemorated Executive Order 9066 (in collaboration with Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Fusao Inada); collaborated with March Music Moderne, Venerable Showers of Beauty gamelan, and Delgani String Quartet; produced showcase concerts for pairs of long-standing members (David Bernstein & Greg Steinke, Ted Clifford & Paul Safar), and even an electronics-themed show at The Old Church.

This month, mezzo-soprano and Cascadia composer Lisa Neher takes center stage for CC’s Shades of Autumn concert in Lincoln Recital Hall on the 15th. Neher was integral part of this concert’s score call, which yielded an evening of songs and other chamber works by Bernstein, Safar, Steinke, Elizabeth Blachly-Dyson, Evan Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Jan Mittelstaedt, Dawn Sonntag, and Arts Watch contributors Charles Rose and Jeff Winslow. With their focus on performing works across a wide cross-section of composers, CC shows tend to be a bit of grab-bag, and that’s a good thing: consistency can be nice (as in the showcase concerts), but the sampler approach yields a varied stylistic experience that lets you pick your favorites while getting a taste of musical voices you might not otherwise hear.

Music for swingers

There’s a strange symmetry between jazz and classical. Traditionally painted as genres at odds with each other–most famously in an early Disney short–the two have mirrored and fed each other over the decades. The folky and improvisational jazz, invented in America, has found a comfortable home in Europe, Scandinavia, and all over the world. Formalist and academic classical music, invented in Europe, has found unique new expressions in the American classical tradition. From Ellington’s sacred concerts to Milhaud’s jazzy orchestral music to Henry Threadgill and Steve Reich, jazz and classical have continued to have a fruitful odd couple sort of romance, resulting in a distinctly contemporary melange of vivid rhythms and sophisticated harmonies.

November 5th and 6th, Third Angle breezes down to Jack London Revue for Back in the Groove, brewing up a spicy hodge-podge of cross-pollinated jazz-classical deliciousness. Local sax star Sean Fredenberg and Oregon Symphony principal clarinetist James Shields join Sarah Tiedemann–3A director and flutist extraordinaire–for two evenings of jazz-inspired contemporary classical chamber music at one of the handful of local venues which have filled the void left by the closure of Jimmy Mak’s. Selections include Jacob TV’s bizarre multi-media flute fantasy Lipstick, Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, Lee Hyla’s haunting baritone sax and bass clarinet duet We Speak Etruscan, singing percussionist Eve Beglarian’s Can I have it without begging?, plus works by Ian Clarke, Evan Williams, Reich himself, Philip Glass, Michael Lowenstern, Evan Williams, and Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the jazzical divide, we have Blue Cranes and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. They’ll smash up their peanut butter and chocolate at Holocene for “Siege of Cranes” concert November 21st, featuring the tight-knit BC quintet and PJCE’s eight-piece horn section performing new big band arrangements of Cranes classics by Bluesters Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham, Swansea violinist Kyleen King, Tiny Resistors maestro Todd Sickafoose, and PJCE Grasshoppers Young Composers alum Quinn Walker.

Music for singers

You get two chances to hear Englilsh composer John Rutter’s (ahem) literally glorious Gloria this month. In Salem, Willamette Master Chorus performs it at Hudson Hall on the 9th and 10th. In Portland, Big Horn Brass joins Portland Choir & Orchestra for two performances at the Newmark Theatre on the 30th.

Cappella Romana, no stranger to heavy music, gives the Northwest premiere of Russian composer Alexander Kastalsky’s Requiem: Memory Eternal to the Fallen Heroes on five concerts this month: the 8th in Seattle, the 9th at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Northwest Portland, the 10th at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, and two shows on the 11th in Lincoln City. Guest conductor Steven Fox was nominated for a Grammy for his involvement with the project that resurrected Kastalsky’s massive, Soviet-scorned choral cathedral, composed after WWI to commemorate the soldiers of the world. We expect the always profound CR gang to acquit themselves honorably–this is exactly the sort of thing they do best.

Portland-based maverick opera composer Christopher Corbell, aka Cult of Orpheus, is once again Up To Something. On the 8th at Valentines in downtown Portland, it’s the Rose City Art Song Project, Corbell’s settings of poems by four different local poets. As usual, it’s a starry cast: Eric Asakawa sings James Yeary to electronic accompaniment by the composer, who straps on an electric guitar to accompany mezzo Sadie Gregg on two settings of Mo McFeely; soprano Jocelyn Thomas sings Coleman Stevenson with violist Julie Asparro, and baritone Dan Gibbs sings Jason Squamata with saxophonist Patrick McCulley. Music starts at 8, but get there at 7 to hear the poets read their own work.

Music for drummers

You’d probably expect a drum group founded in a park by a pair of violinists to be a little less staid than other exponents of Japan’s centuries-old classical percussion tradition–and you’d be right. Portland Taiko celebrates its 25th anniversary with an exhibit at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and pair of concerts in Lincoln Performance Hall on November 2nd and 3rd, featuring the return of several former members, co-founders Ann Ishimaru and Zack Semke, and special guests: famed taiko-jazz fusion composer Kenny Endo, Sacramento Taiko Dan founder Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Portland’s Kalabharathi Dancers, and Fear No Music flutist Amelia Lukas.

Music for orchestras

The Oregon Symphony is off to a great start this season: film score concerts of Williams and Elfman, new music by Bettison, concertos by Akiho and Frank and Lutosławski, even a bit of Beethoven and Brahms. This month, it’s a harvest season feast of filling favorites, from Mendelssohn to Mahler.

This weekend (in Salem on Friday–tonight!–and back at Portland’s Schnitz Saturday through Monday), pianist Stephen Hough joins the orchestra for Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor. With Schumann’s first symphony and a pair of Lili Boulanger compositions on the bill, this ironically spring-themed show will probably be the orchestra’s most conservative concert of the season.

Going the other direction–and keeping with that “jazz vs. classical” theme–we have Chick Corea, performing with the orchestra on November 7th. Three essential ingredients make up this spicy dish. The first is Corea himself, a pianist and composer who has spent his entire career dancing merrily across the lines drawn between jazz, western classical, and Spanish dance music. The second ingredient is the deft Oregon Symphony itself, equally at home playing Mahler symphonies, John Williams scores, and Brahms-Radiohead mashups. They’ll back Corea in performances of his Piano Concerto No. 1 and George Gershwin’s infamous Rhapsody in Blue–and that’s our third ingredient. Gershwin is the original American master of pop-classical line jumping, and Corea’s take on his predecessor’s music is sure to be hot.

On Sunday the 10th, take the kids (inner or otherwise) out for an afternoon of orchestral fantasy film music. Norman Huynh conducts Castles & Wizards, featuring music from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. Come early for Kennedy Violins’ “Instrument Petting Zoo”–your chance to actually lay hands on a real-life violin.

The following weekend, November 16-18, it’s Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. The orchestra often closes their season with Mahler, but chilly November is an ideal time for the Viennese proto-modernist’s obsessively tragic music. On the first half, violinist Alexi Kenney joins the orchestra for the third of Mozart’s tasty violin concerti.

The month ends with the return of SoundSights, a series of concerts pairing the orchestra with a variety of visual artists. These shows are always a Spectacle: previous years have included Bluebeard’s Castle, Perséphone, and the Terrible Turangorilla of 2016. November 23-25, Sibelius and Shakespeare provide the impetus for the first SoundSight concert of the season: The Tempest, in a live stage production directed by Mary Birnbaum (responsible for all those colorful doors in Bluebeard), with costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti, sets and lighting design by Anshu Bhatia, and even more lighting by Justin Dunlap. If that’s not enough–or if you only care about the music–then come for the PSU Chamber Choir, who broke everyone’s hearts last year with their gooey performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

Birnbaum’s Castle. Photo: Oregon Symphony/Brud Giles

But the Oregon Symphony isn’t the only symphonic orchestra in town–they just put on the most concerts. That makes the rarer performances by Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Newport Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Beaverton Symphony Orchestra, et alia all the more special–and, with (perhaps) a little less at stake, they tend to be somewhat more adventurous in their programming.

PYP’s fall concert at The Schnitz on November 9th pairs two American composers from the first half of the century: George Gershwin and Amy Beach. Most of the time, when we hear Gershwin live it’s Rhapsody in Blue for the millionth time; this time it’s his other big hit, 1925’s more traditionally classical Concerto in F, performed by PYP and pianist Joshua Ji (recent winner of Portland Piano International’s Piano Concerto Competition). Beach’s 1894 Gaelic Symphony, the first symphony composed and published by an American woman (beating Florence Price by a few decades), takes its cue from Mendelssohn, weaving melodies from the British Isles into four movements of symphonic music sitting right on the edge of backward-looking Eurocentric Romanticism and forward-facing American Proto-Modernism. Also on the program: 20th-century Brazilian composer Oscar Lorenzo Fernández’s Batuque.

On the 10th, also at the Schnitz, MYS plays Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, along with American icon Joan Tower’s briefly monumental fourth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, the first movement of Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (featuring MYS Concerto Competition Winner Kevin Tsai), and the world premiere of Portland composer Matthew Kaminsky’s Hidden Voices. We can’t pass up a chance to hear Tower’s crunchy music live–an all too rare phenomenon in this nominally “woke” town–and Kaminsky has proven himself a local composer worth paying attention to. He’s one of several young composers to come through Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project, and has distinguished himself on several Cascadia Composers concerts. This is exactly the sort of thing we need, especially when so many other regional institutions seem hell-bent on hiring hip composers from Los Angeles and Brooklyn to write operas and be creative chairs. Got your doubts about local living composers? Go listen to Kaminsky and hear the future for yourself.

The headlining work on PCSO’s fall Scheherazade and Other Epic Odysseys concerts (November 22 at First United Methodist Church in Portland, November 24 at Mount Hood Community College in Troutdale) is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s famous tone poem, a politically incorrect and orientalizing impression of the Arabian Nights’ narrator which nevertheless manages to sound pretty swell. It’s well-loved for a reason–Rimsky-Korsakoff literally wrote the book on well-crafted orchestral writing–and PCSO always performs Russian composers with appropriate levels of whimsy and heaviness, but it’s the other two works on the program that should have audiences excited.

Vancouver-based composer Nicole Buetti got her start in Hollywood before moving north and playing contrabassoon with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, who last year premiered her delightfully melodic Odyssey Overture. PCSO gives the dark, playful overture a repeat Pacific Northwest performance. And violist Brett Deubner joins the orchestra for living U.S. composer Richard Danielpour’s concerto for viola and orchestra, The Voyager, composed for Deubner and premiered only two years ago.

The Oregon Coast is a chilly place all year round, making November a fine time to bundle up and go hear some orchestral music by the sea. This weekend, NSO’s The Great: An epic symphonic journey concerts pair Schubert’s majestic C Major Symphony with Swiss-Oregonian composer Ernst Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1. If that’s too far, pop over to Beaverton’s Village Baptist Church this weekend for BSO’s fall concerts on the 1st (tonight!) and 3rd. There’s more Beethoven–the jolly 8th–along with Adam LaMotte on Sibelius’ novelistic Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and the first movement of David Ackerman’s Symphony No. 1.

This weekend, closer to home–just across the Columbia River–VSO plays Brahms, Barber, and a saxophone concerto by Italian-American composer Paul Creston, featuring Jeff Siegfried on alto sax.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.