Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds

Festivals large and small with Resonance Ensemble, Makrokosmos Project, New Music Gathering, Chamber Music Northwest, Brittfest, and more.

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"Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing," circa 1786, by William Blake (1757-1827).
“Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” circa 1786, by William Blake (1757-1827).

There are so many festivals this month that even Resonance Ensemble is getting in on the action. They’re normally known for their tightly compressed two-hour-ish concerts, by which I mean that they normally fit a festival’s worth of music and meaning into a “normal” concert’s time frame (in psychedelic circles this is known as time dilation). What then can we expect from their upcoming shindig, Earth’s Protection? This “free arts and music festival for our planet” isn’t a multi-concert festival in the sense of the other month-long festivals we’ll be highlighting today. Nor is it a month’s worth of concerts packed into a single day, like Makrokosmos later in the month.

No, this is more like a Harvest Festival. There will be food trucks, and an art exhibit by local photographer extraordinaire Joe Cantrell (whose work you’ve seen abundantly right here at ArtsWatch), and a “drumming and dance demonstration by the Nez Perce performing ensemble Four Directions.” And in the evening, a concert featuring two larger-scale works that we’re especially excited about. One is Songs for Celilo, composed by Oregon’s favorite singing cellist Nancy Ives with poet Ed Edmo. Read Angela Allen’s review of last year’s multimedia premiere here, and Bennett Campbell Ferguson’s interview with Ives here, and check out a few of Cantrell’s photos from that premiere right here:

Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Ed Edmo. Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Ed Edmo. Photo by Joe Cantrell.

The other big piece on the program is Sarah Kirkland Snider’s recent Mass for the Endangered, for which Resonance will be joined by Fear No Music. Like so many other composers we’ve come to enjoy over the last several years, Resonance is responsible for introducing us to Snider via her Unremembered, parts of which were featured on their 2019 Beautiful Minds concert. Here’s what we had to say at the time:

Following the Oliveros meditation, five scenes from Snider’s Unremembered made up the rest of the concert, and they were the most musically compelling songs of the whole show. Angular melodies, chromatic mediant harmonies, overlapping ascending scales, rich rhythmic density arising from Monkishly interlocking ostinati, a whole lot of stomping and clapping and even a little tambourine and some antique cymbals. A Renaissancey minimalism, and quite honestly some of the coolest stuff I’ve heard in a long time.

Listen to that performance for yourself right here, and check out Snider’s Mass on Bandcamp:

Also on that evening concert: the first live performance of Jasmine Barnes’ Normal Never Was, commissioned by Resonance during lockdown (watch the online premiere here), and Reena Esmail’s The Tipping Point (featuring tabla player Shrikant Naware). This whole festivalette is free (except the food trucks), but pre-registration for the concert is required (do that here). And you can read more about this concert (and a lot more besides) in Daryl Browne’s most recent choral column right here.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Struck by sound

We’re loving the cute name that local percussionists Jon and Yoko Greeney chose for their new mobile venue: SoundsTruck NW, hovering in the semantically ambiguous interzone where “Sound Struck” overlaps with “Sounds Truck.” Because yes, dear reader, this is a truck that the pianist and timpanist have rigged up with a piano and–well, really, it could be anything in there.

For instance, they’ll have local drum hero Charlie Brown III and his drum set with them on June 18, when CBIII and Lo Steele perform in North Portland for this Juneteenth concert at Cathedral Park. And the gods themselves might wonder what they’ll need when Yoko, violinist Searmi Park, and Jon with fellow percussionists Sergio Carreno, Stephen Kehner and Chris Whyte, perform Andy Akiho’s music at noonish on June 22 as part of New Music Gathering 2023.

Riiiiiight, that whole NMG thing is happening. It’s the first big festival of the summer, and it’s entirely free and open to the public–and this year’s lineup is a doozy. The opening night concert features three of Oregon’s hottest classical ensembles: Fear No Music, Third Angle New Music, and Resonance Ensemble. The rest of the three-day affair includes tantalizingly-titled amusements like “9 Ways to Destroy a Violin” and “Heavy Metal: Giant Spinning Bell” and “Making Music While the World Is Ending” and “Soundwalking collective consciousness around militant police” and–well, you get the idea. It all ends with a bonus soundwalk titled “The Walk North: Nomadic Keyboard.”

Besides that Soundstruck Akiho performance, Whyte will do his own solo thing (not to be missed), plus local contemporary classical luminaries like flutist Amelia Lukas and oboist Catherine Lee, plus plenty of visiting musicians like Bora Yoon and Mantra Percussion. You can view the entire schedule at NMG’s website.

Oh yeah, and Caroline Shaw will be there. Did we mention that already? She’s the keynote speaker and will perform her own concert on day three, June 24.

Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kait Moreno.
Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kait Moreno.

Garden fractals

Most of the sprawling multi-week festival that is Chamber Music Northwest happens in July, but the first several concerts hallow the end of June. The kickoff, as usual, unfolds a bit gradually.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

At noon on June 23, the Community Music Center in Southeast Portland hosts the first of three Young Artist Institute showcase concerts (the second and third follow on June 30 and July 7). The YAI is a crucial part of what CMNW does, and you can read about Zlatomir Fung’s experience with the kids at last summer’s festival right here. That evening, you can drop $150 on a West Hills house show–er, “garden chamber party”–featuring a string quartet composed of CMNW co-director Soovin Kim and YAI faculty Jessica Lee, Hanna Lee, and Edward Arron. Proceeds from this benefit soiree go to CMNW’s education and community engagement programs (like YAI, for instance).

The fest proper starts with the opening night(s) concert(s) on June 24 and 25 at the usual venues (PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, respectively). The star of the opening program, Poetry in Music, is mezzo soprano Fleur Barron. You may remember her from last year’s finale, or from James Bash’s review thereof; this year she’ll sing songs by Brahms and a world premiere by CMNW Protégé composer Kian Ravaei. Also on the bill: a bit of Mozart, and Brahms’ second Piano Quartet (the one in A major).

Opening week continues with Schubert & Fauré: Masters of Lyricism at The Reser on June 29. Plenty of CMNW regulars on this one: Fung is back, as is violinist Benjamin Beilman. You may remember the latter from his performances last year of Henry Cowell’s Set of Five and Chris Rogerson’s Partita. Barron will still be around for this concert, singing songs from Schubert’s swan song, Schwanengesang. CMNW co-director Gloria Chien and longtime CNMW violist Paul Neubauer round out the ensemble, who will also perform Fauré’s second Piano Quartet (the one in G minor).

And, as always, there will be open rehearsals and masterclasses–one of each in this opening week. Stay tuned for more about CMNW in July, when the action really gets hot.

The other giant music festival starting this month is way down at the wild southern part of the state in Jacksonsville, not too far from Medford and Ashland and the California border. The Britt Music and Arts Festival starts with a “Neighborhood Kickoff Party” on June 8 (featuring Adam Gabriel, Michal Palzewicz Trio, and Alice Di Micele), and then proceeds to run clear on through the first of September.

Sponsor

Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

This particular festival is All Over The Place musically, apparently united only by its namesake venue (a fine little outdoor pavilion where the present author once took in a very memorable Gary Burton and Chick Corea concert). For instance, Ringo Starr and Diana Ross are performing there this month, on June 10 and 19. So are Shakey Graves and Kelsea Ballerini, June 11 and 25. But we’re particularly interested in the Britt Festival Orchestra’s concerts, which constitute a sort of festival-within-a-festival.

There’s a whole string of these, and they’re as diverse on an orchestral level as CMNW’s are on the chamber plane. The first concert, on June 15, stars violinist Anne Akiko Meyers performing a concerto written for her: living composer Michael Daugherty’s Blue Electra. You’ll also hear Chris Cerrone’s The Insects Became Magnetic and Richard Strauss’ Nietzschean Also Sprach Zarathustra (sixty seconds of which will be intensely familiar to every ear).

Also in June, BFO performs The Princess Bride and a series of concerts that beautifully combine old classical with new. On June 22, it’s a Schumann schymmphony alongside pianist-composer Timo Andres and erstwhile Oregonian composer Caleb Palka, whom you may remember from Fear No Music and Metropolitan Youth Symphony.

On June 24 it’s Three B’s: Barber, Beethoven, and Lisa Bielawa. We first heard Bielawa on the same Resonance concert as Snider; BFO will premiere her Send the Carriage Through. And on June 29 BFO will perform Ravel, Smetana, Sibelius, and music by two more living composers: Ellen Reid’s Today and Today and Today and Today and Angélica Negrón’s Fractal Isles.

And that’s just June! And that’s not even all of it! Read more about Brittfest at their website.

Deep roots are not reached by the frost

We close on the other end of the spectrum, back where we started, with a one-day festival: the intensely intense Makrokosmos Project, now in its (gasp) ninth year. For one day only–Thursday, June 29–dueling hiker-pianists Saar Ahuvia and Stephanie Ho join forces with Portland Percussion Group and Pyxis Quartet and several of Oregon’s other new music masters to take over Portland Institute of Contemporary Art doing the thing we love them for: playing five hours of nothing but contemporary classical music. As usual there’ll be some George Crumb, and it’s no surprise to see difficult music darlings Toru Takemitsu, John Luther Adams, and Meredith Monk on the program again. But what makes this year’s microfest extra special is how many Oregon composers are given top billing.

Sponsor

Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon

Fittingly, the program is titled Ghosts of Cascadia–suggesting that the dearly departed Tomáš Svoboda will be haunting the proceedings at PICA. And indeed he will, with his piano music dominating the fourth hour, subtitled “Manifest Destiny.” Jeff Payne and Susan Smith, two of Portland’s most astonishing new music pianists, will perform his Suite for Piano Four Hands; Smith solo will perform his Sonata No. 3. Also in the four hour: Three Water Dances by Japanese composer Karen Tanaka and the piano duet Catalyst by Lewis & Clark music professor Michael Johanson, whose Grooves & Diversions was so groovy and diverting at Makrokosmos III.

But it’s Reed composition professor Kirsten Volness who gives the concert its title: MP commissioned her Ghosts of Cascadia last year, and DUO Stephanie and Saar will premiere it in the second hour. Ahuvia will perform an early Volness piece, the Aragorn ode Not all who wander are lost, which also gives the second hour its subtitle.

Makrokosmos 9 wraps up in the fifth hour, “Alpenglow,” with two Portland composers known to possibly every ArtsWatch reader: Fear No Music artistic director Kenji Bunch and PSU School of Music and Theater director Bonnie Miksch. Percussionist and conductor Niel DePonte commissioned Bunch’s new work Trackings, which he will premiere at this concert with the help of Pyxis and pianist Maria Garcia. Pyxis will also perform a piece written for them: Miksch’s I found this flower, originally composed as part of a four-composer concert supporting the poetry of Micah Fletcher, survivor of the infamous 2017 Max stabbings (you can read more about all that right here).

This is nowhere near everything–check the Makrokosmos Project website for a complete breakdown of the program. A word of caution for those who haven’t experienced one of these yet: wear comfortable clothes.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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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