MusicWatch Monthly: A Septemberful of ‘music’

"Classical" music, "Hip-hop" music, "Queer" music, "Experimental" music

Well, friends, you’ve got a helluva nice September to look forward to. Oregon Symphony provides live backup to the greatest movie of all time and also Wyclef Jean. Cappella Romana performs a bunch of Byzantine music, Kalakendra and Rasika present Indian classical music and dance, Nordic folk band Sver comes to Alberta Rose, and local rapper Fountaine headlines a free Labor Day hip-hop fest.

FearNoMusic and Third Angle swing back into full Relevant Classical mode this month, while Oregon Repertory Singers perform local composer Joan Szymko. Portland State’s Queer Opera presents gender-bent opera scenes and art songs, Dolphin Midwives plays a Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony, and the Extradition Series imports a Canadian trumpeter.

We’ve even got a few concerts for you outside the Portland metro area, in case the shame trolls decide they want another helping of bananafied humiliation optics, police cover, wasted city resources, and charitable donations.

“Drip, drip.”

“Hip-Hop” Music

Everything else starts happening next week, but you should probably skip the beach trip traffic and commemorate America’s dead labor movement with a staycation and a free show at Mississippi Studios. Sunday night, the first of September, grab your Tri-Met pass and hop over to Fountaine’s free Labor Day show. The rapper, hip-hop/R&B producer, and anime lover recently composted the album he had in the works, and now he’s about ready to release what he did instead. For now, take a listen to one of the things he’s done in the interim–a sweet drizzly LP called Rain?

Now, I’m not at all qualified to write about Portland’s hip-hop scene, so I’ll just direct you to Jenni Moore and Britta Lokting. But I still want to tell you about two other area hip-hop shows that came across my digital desk in Bali and made me homesick.

The first is Illmac’s appearance this Thursday, September 5th, at the weekly Thesis show at Kelly’s Olympian in downtown Portland. Back in 2014, during the Blue Monk debacle, the rapper promised to never perform in Portland “as long as the blatant targeting of black culture and minorities congregating is acceptable common practice.” This isn’t his first PDX show since then, and I have no idea what changed his mind–you’ll just have to go ask him yourself.

The other show I want to tell you about features local rapper Dame D.O.L.L.A., who apparently also plays a little basketball. Dame’s concert isn’t in Oregon, strictly speaking: he’s headlining the veterans benefit show #PDXBeThere up at the Clark County Events Center in Ridgefield, Washington, on September 7th. Here’s a tip: take the northern route to Astoria next weekend and hit this on the way back.

Running to the end zone.

“Classical” Music

Oregon Symphony’s live-score-to-film concerts are always among their most popular, drawing audiences which are larger, broader, and younger than their usual classical crowds. They’re fun shows: symphonic film scores performed live and syncronized with the film projected on a screen above the orchestra. Film music and the composers who make it don’t have quite the bad reputation they used to, and that’s for good reason: Danny Elfman, James Horner, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and the rest all have unique compositional voices which combine traditional classical thinking with a living, entertainment-driven aesthetic that places them on par, or nearly so, with “proper” U.S. classical composers like Florence Price and Gabriela Lena Frank.

Last year, OSO and conductor Norman Huynh performed the first Star Wars score (Episode IV: A New Hope) to four sold-out crowds in a row, and it was among the most thrilling orchestral experiences of the year. This year, on three concerts September 13-15, Williams’s daring, foundational Empire Strikes Back score gets the OSO treatment. If you’ve ever listened to this score in isolation–on double LP, for instance–you already know that the best movie in the series also got the best music, rich with new themes and all manner of sonic novelty. Peer behind the screen to get a good look at the synthesizers and metallic percussion.

I know.

On the 22nd, OSO gets in on the hip-hop game with A Night of Symphonic Hip Hop featuring Wyclef Jean. Unlike most of the other mainstream artists who perform in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Jean is actually performing with the orchestra, and that sounds pretty badass to me. Classic Fugees hits like “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” along with songs from Jean’s solo career, get OSOfied with conductor Norman Huynh.

We’ll talk more about OSO next week, when we look back at last season, preview this season, and dissect our mixed feelings about their new Creative Chair.

Elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday.

On the 12th, Third Angle New Music takes a cue from the Makrokosmos Project and opens their season with a concert at Vestas. In Wildness features environmentally conscious contemporary classical works by George Crumb, John Luther Adams, and Mary Kouyoumdjian. Like most concerts produced by this long-standing Portland new music organization, the show features more than just music, reflecting on “the most poignant catastrophe of our times” with special lighting, performers in masks, and wildlife sounds.

On the 23rd, FearNoMusic highlights another of today’s burning topics: their season-opening Hearings concert at The Old Church amplifies the #metoo movement with newly commissioned music by eight (mostly) Pacific Northwest composers. Previous FNM shows have come at the same topic from other angles, most notably in Daniel Felsenfeld’s bone-chilling Presidential Address (heard on last year’s beautifully defiant Folk you, too! and scheduled for the encore show next June).

“Grab em by the pussy.”

This time it’s a whole evening of new work responding to last year’s Kavanaugh hearings, which Resonance Ensemble and Melissa Dunphy juxtaposed with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony on their Women Singing Women concert earlier this year. The eight composers whose work FNM selected–Felsenfeld, Andrea Reinkemeyer, Ruby Fulton, Carolyn Quick, Stacy Fahrion, Megan DiGeorgio, Matthew Packwood, and Cascadia Composers co-founder Jack Gabel–incorporated text and audio from the proceedings into their music, and this is certainly gonna be a heavy one. In fact it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and schedule an appointment with your anger management therapist and/or rsvp to a protest–or, stop by Powell’s on the way to church and pick up a copy of Rebecca Traister’s latest. Not recommended for #snowflakes.

Oregon Repertory Singers have a third social issue they want to sing to you about: Alzheimer’s. Their season opener Shadow & Light–September 28th and 29th at First United Methodist Church (Southwest Jefferson by the Goose Hollow Max station and the giant arboreal roundabout)–features local composer Joan Szymko’s work of the same title for choir, solo vocalists, and orchestra.

Oregon Repertory Singers and Joan Szymko visibilize Alzheimer’s.

One of Oregon’s best instrumental chamber groups, the Eugene-based Delgani String Quartet, has a whole program of local composers coming up next weekend. On the 7th and 8th, they’re playing two concerts at Wildish Theater in Springfield, featuring works by John Lundblade, Anice Thigpen, Andrew Lewinter, David Sprung, Cascadia composer Paul Safar, and UO professor Terry McQuilkin, whose Invisible Light lent its title to Delgani’s first album. Delgani is joined by singers Siri Vik, Laura Wayte, and Gretchen Farrar; actor Rickie Birran; and visual artists Lillian Almeida and Sunny Selby.

Speaking of Cascadia Composers, Safar and president Ted Clifford celebrate their 50th birthdays with a pair of September concerts: one at Eugene’s Unity of the Valley Church on the 14th, another at Portland’s less-impressively-named The Old Church on the 21st. Stay tuned for Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s preview.

Delgani and Birran perform Safar’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’

“Queer” Music

You should be paying more attention to Portland State’s Queer Opera, and not just because you should be doing everything you can to support LGBTQ artists. What I mean by that is, while it’s good to support queer art whether it’s well-made or not–social justice takes many forms–it’s a total no-brainer to support queer art which is also high quality and aesthetically pleasing (let’s call it the Resonant Musical Meaning Effect).

Last year, I told you all about QO’s premiere concert, a spell-binding double-header of arias, opera scenes, and art songs. What I haven’t told you about yet is PSU Opera’s Rebecca Herman-directed production last December of Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias, which was–no kidding–the best show of the year. It’s not just that Poulenc is an awesome and underappreciated early modern composer, nor that The Breasts of Tiresias is a hilarious opera with funny songs and terrific music. No, the deal here is that my alma mater is completely dominated by amazing actor-singers who know how to perform beautifully and have a gay old time.

Queer Opera singers performed Bernstein last year.

Now, we’ve talked before about that wonderful word “gay” and why I believe we should reclaim its old meaning and merge it with the new one. As I noted then, Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann links the two meanings via what he terms “a light-hearted defiance of convention,” and that sure applied to this production of Poulenc’s little queer-as-hell satire. These kids–most of whom I see in the halls regularly, a few of whom I’ve tutored in music theory, one of which designed the PSU journal Subito–laughed and hammed it up and sang their asses off for a packed audience of what seemed to be mostly friends, family, fellow students, and PSU faculty (and where were you?) This was an English translation, sans supertitles, so the satirical jokes all landed right where they were supposed to, with the small Lincoln Studio Theater crowd in hysterics like a sitcom audience.

Balloons were festooned all over the theater–tied to the rafters, tacked to the walls, bouncing around the room, ricocheting off accompanist James Pick’s head–and the cast had no shame in making all the corny jokes you’d hope for, given the opera’s title and subject matter (here’s where a less stodgy writer might insert a tasteless crack about milking the balloons for maximum comedic effect). Lead soprano Rebecca Yakos, as Thérèse, even had a pair in her blouse like it was a damn John Waters movie.

Follow the bouncing balloons.

But none of that would have made Breasts the greatest show of 2018 if it weren’t for the music. Poulenc’s musical style–like the composer himself–is pretty slippery. Melodies and harmonies refuse to go where you expect them to, with an edgy-poppy tonal vocabulary somewhere between Satie and Weill. Tuxedoed conductor and Queer Opera Musical Director Chuck Dillard–one of PSU’s greatest assets–sat in the front row (right in front of the present author), a score on his lap, deftly leading singers and pianist through angular harmonies, Vaudevillian patter, and a whole lot of sexy French music considerably more gorgeous than Fauré’s (#fightme).

Queer Opera’s next set of shows expands its roster of singers (tenors, at last!) for two evenings of scenes from Carmen, Der Rosenkavalier, and Roméo et Juliette (Queer Opera: Experience, September 14th & 15th in Lincoln Hall Studio Theater) and an afternoon of English art songs (Queer Opera: Song, also in the Studio Theater but only on the 15th). We’ll tell you more about all that in a couple of weeks, when we’ll be talking to some of those singers about their experiences and expectations for the new season. In the meantime, mark your calendars.

Make Portland Queer Again.

“World” Music

Read Brett Campbell’s recent take on the Beloved Festival for a refresher on why “world music” is a problematic term. Then get a load of some “whatever you want to call it” music from Sweden, India, Los Angeles, and Byzantium.

This Thursday, the 5th (while Illmac is battling the Olympians), folk quartet Sver bring their hardanger fiddles and their diatonic accordions and their “swinging, pounding and sweaty madness” to Alberta Rose Theatre for an evening of Nordic dance music. Uff da!

Come to the land of the ice and snow.

The next evening, September 6th, local Indian arts organization Rasika brings twenty dancers and seven distinct styles of classical dance to the Forum Theater at PCC Rock Creek, just north of Tanasbourne, for the “ballet” showcase Saptarvana: Seven Shades of Indian Dance. Don’t let visions of swans and pointe shoes fool you–this stuff is just as deliriously complex and beautifully ecstatic as the accompanying music, and you’d have to be a damn fool (or stranded in Bali) to miss it. But if you do miss it, the other local Indian arts organization–Kalakendra–has got you covered. At Newmark Theater on the 29th, they present the “kuchipudi dance drama” Ardhanareeswaram, featuring dancers and live orchestra.

The kuchipudi dance.

But if dancing ain’t your cup o’ chai and you really just want nothing but Indian classical music, Kalakendra’s got another show this month: sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee and vocalist Gayatri Asokan, accompanied by Ojas Adhinya’s tabla and Deepak Marathe’s harmonium, perform at Southwest Portland’s First Baptist Church on the 13th. Be sure to read our incomplete and biased primer on Indian classical music appreciation first.

If you didn’t get your fill of cumbia at last week’s Orquestra Pacifico Tropical show, head up to Mississippi Studios on the 19th for los hermanos angelenos de cumbia punk, Tropa Magica. Your transplanted present author will be there, all nostálgico por los angeles. Come for la musica, stay for the sexy mosh pit. ¡Mira, güey!

¡Órale!

Portland-based choral ensemble Cappella Romana is another of those local choirs that can’t decide if they’re living in the past or the future. I’ve heard them perform exquisitely new music by living composers working in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and it blew my damn mind. I’ve also heard them sing Rachmaninoff and Pärt, along with straight up old-fashioned chant-based church music, and no one captures the ancient formula in saecula saeculorum better. Besides all that, they have the profoundest bassi profundi I’ve ever heard in person.

On September 22nd in Portland Art Museum’s Kridel Ballroom, Cappella Romana takes you to 13th-century Byzantium (present-day Istanbul, not Constantinople) with a concert celebrating their album Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia. Two curious things about this show, besides the marvelous medieval music. The first is the “fundraiser dinner inspired by the flavors of Byzantium,” which hopefully doesn’t include poison. The second is the unique acoustic setting: Bissera Pentcheva and a team of scientists at Stanford University have been working with CR for years to create a virtual sonic recreation of Byzantium’s infamous Hagia Sophia cathedral, and this choir is the first to take it out for a test spin. Go get spiritual-minded, you spuds!

The sound of the eternal past.

“Experimental” Music

French composer and Zappa hero Edgard Varese once said, “I do not write experimental music. My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards, it is the listener who must experiment.” This attitude is clearly audible in his carefully crafted “classical” music, but there’s still a place for music we might broadly call experimental. That place is Portland.

On the 10th and 11th, you can experience the WAVE speaker immersion at Disjecta. I have no idea what it feels like to get physically ensconced in the 32 speakers of Portland Community College’s high density loudspeaker array–cheekily nicknamed Unity Gain by inventor Jesse Mejía–and neither do you. This summer, local sound ritualist Crystal Quartez and students from PCC Cascade’s Music & Sonic Arts program composed three-dimensional music for Unity Gain, and they’ll be performing it live at North Portland’s favorite bowling-alley-turned-experimental-gallery.

Sound ritualist Crystal Quartez does her thing.

There’s not much left to say about Dolphin Midwives, stage name of local composer Sage Fisher. She has a harp, a voice, a slew of pedals and other sound toys, and a beautifully eccentric compositional aesthetic–and that’s all she needs. If you haven’t gone to one of her shows yet, why not? Head to North Portland’s Nalu Kava Bar on the 14th to celebrate the new moon with DW and “experimental soul / future gospel / somatic therapy artist” Treneti at the Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony. You’re welcome to skip the ceremony and just come for the music, but do you really need less subtle body energy activation in your life? Ceremony starts at 7, music at 8.

On the 21st, Canadian composer Mark Hannesson, a member of the international experimental music group Wandelweiser, brings his music and his trumpet to the Resound NW studio in Goose Hollow for a recital with the local silence-and-improvisation-based Extradition Series. Extradition, a small tribe of Portland-based avant-garde classical musicians coalescing around percussionist Matt Hannafin, exists “at the intersection of composition and improvisation, intentionality and chance, clarity and silence,” and their concerts have often featured Wandelweiser composers (Jürg Frey, Michael Pisaro). The music tends to be sparse, slow, and silent, which makes it difficult listening in one sense but very soothing listening in a totally different sense.

Extradition musicians performing Hannesson at Leaven Community Center in 2017.

That’s all for now, Oregon! The radioactive disk is still up there trying to give you cancer, so remember your sunscreen and your floppy hats! We’ll see you next week, when we’ll talk about “Elvis” and the notorious flesh-eating zombie known as “rock” music.

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2 Responses.

  1. Jan Schaeffer, ORS singer says:

    Oregon Repertory Singers will be giving the second Oregon performance of Joan Szymko’s Shadow and Light, with orchestra, September 28 and 29. Eugene Concert Choir premiered the work in 2016. We are helping this deserving work reach a wider audience and, we hope, inspire future performances.

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