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MusicWatch Monthly: Andy Akiho and Gemini Project, Chris Whyte and Maria Garcia, Roselit Bone, Eyelids, Yuvees, all the Beethoven you can stand, Christopher Brown plays Bowie

Percussion concerts with 45th Parallel and Third Angle; goth and punk and whathaveyou at Mississippi Studios; CMNW’s mini-festival of piano trios; neurologist Larry Sherman with Portland Chamber Orchestra; Christopher Brown Quartet plays “Blackstar.”

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Let’s start with three events coming at you this weekend. You can read about two of them in last week’s MusicWatch, in which we discussed Caroline Shaw and Danni Lee’s performance this Sunday at Alberta Abbey and Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s concert (also this Sunday) premiering Nancy Ives’ Pando and Charlie Martin’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier. The third of these early March concerts features a different youth orchestra, the Portland Youth Philharmonic. That one’s on Saturday at The Schnitz, so you can still squeeze it in before you have to decide between Shaw and Ives.

PYP’s concert Serenade in the Wind is composed of three major segments, all exciting for aficionados of American classical music. The big thing is Jeff Scott’s Paradise Valley Serenade, for which PYP will be joined by Scott’s erstwhile bandmates Imani Winds. Portland and PYP have history with Scott and with the Imanis. The wind quintet made a big splash with Chamber Music Northwest audiences, not least with 2018’s Passion for Bach & Coltrane (which recently won a well-deserved Grammy). The present author was there for Imani’s CMNW run, and you can read about it right here.

As for PYP–they premiered Scott’s The Journey last year, and this time around they’re giving the West Coast premiere of a piece he composed in 2021 for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Here’s what Scott has to say about this one:

Paradise Valley and Black Bottom, Detroit. For me it wasn’t a question of whether I knew the history, but rather, why I didn’t. As I toured through the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, I thought…. Motown, check. Ford Motor Company, check. The Flame Show Bar? The Gotham Hotel? For me, not a notion. Paradise Theater? The very venue that this newly commissioned work will premiere, or Orchestra Hall as we know it. I had no clue that it once operated as a Jazz venue under this name. From 1941- 1951 the Paradise Theater hosted the who’s who of jazz royalty. Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and more. This piece of local history was an entryway to a much larger story. A story of a once thriving African American community. A community that grew from extremely humble beginnings during the Great Migration and out of the Great Depression.

Only to be razed in favor of “Urban Renewal” projects in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This work, Paradise Valley Serenade, opens with a morning yawn and sunrise in “Dawn and Dusk”. The day has begun like most others and there is work to be done, like in any other urban American community. But unlike most communities, there is a cultural hub within, that spews musical fire by night and draws the culturally curious to witness the flames. In the second movement, “Paradise, Razed but not Forgotten”, I envisioned an elder from the Paradise Valley or Black Bottom community, in a docile voice, telling the story to a grandchild. The story is told with great melancholy and even describes his/her witnessing of the demolition of the neighborhoods. That said, there is pride in the telling. A feeling of fortitude and resilience. For the last movement, “A Hug for Cab”, I envisioned what it might have been like to see Cab Calloway live at the Paradise Theater. With his swinging big band, double entendre lyrics, high energy dancing and stage antics.

Another Grammy-winner, Jessie Montgomery, is on the program–the PYP strings will perform her classic Strum, which is now almost twenty years old. The first version was composed in 2006 before being updated in 2012 for Catalyst Quartet, and you can listen to them performing that version (with Montgomery on second violin) right here:

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Completing the program: Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony. The last time PYP performed that one, in 2019 (watch that here) we had this to say about it:

Let’s start with Amy Beach, whose music is boring in the best possible way. That is, her music is boring in the same way Beethoven’s music is boring–it was composed for different ears, in an age before recording technologies transformed everyone’s brains. Don’t get me wrong: Beach’s music is awesome, too, full of beautiful orchestral textures and lovely folkish melodies.

PYP gave a terrific performance of Beach’s Symphony in E Minor “Gaelic” on their most recent concert in November, and I enjoyed getting bored with Beach a lot more than I enjoy getting bored with the OSO’s zillionth Haydn symphony. Gods help me, it was “nice”–a vague word we hate using in print but which nevertheless captures the warm feeling of community and even (dare I risk another problem word?) patriotism that we got from this all-American concert.

The technical term for this sort of criticism is “damning with faint praise,” which we hope won’t deter you from what will surely be a very fine concert. More information and tickets available right here.

Two or three or four percussionists

Two percussion-centric concerts kick off the first week of March. On March 5, 45th Parallel Universe brings Andy Akiho and Gemini Project to the Straub Collective Studio in Industrial Northwest Portland for the first of two Akihotastic concerts 45|| will perform there this spring. This one, Pulse and Pillars, happens in two halves: Akiho doing his solo steel pan thing, followed by the 45|| percussion quartet performing four of the movements from Akiho’s Seven Pillars–another CMNW highlight which Akiho semi-jokingly described in 2022 as “the coolest thing ever done” (read about that here and here).

This is what Gemini Projector and Oregon Symphony percussionist Sergio Carreno has to say about playing Akiho’s music:

Andy has such a profound and intimate understanding of what a percussionist’s hands are technically capable of that he can expertly push the limits of technique and vocabulary in a way that feels simultaneously like you’re being forced to go beyond what is currently possible with your technique, while also having it feel very natural and almost familiar to your hands. It’s a bit paradoxical how my brain and hands feel like there is no way I’ll ever have the ability to play his notes when beginning a new piece, to then eventually (with enough time and effort put in) becoming so natural in the hands that you almost can’t not play it. His music starts to morph into that “like riding a bike” scenario. At the same time a very similar process plays out with how his music is phrased and internally felt and understood at the intellectual level. Deciphering an Andy Akiho score is one the great pleasures, and terrors, in the chamber music genre! Once you crack the code to his scores it becomes so obvious and understood that you can’t “un-see it” ever again. It’s kind of like the arrow that’s embedded in the FedEx logo… once you see it you can’t un-see it.

The second of these Akiho-Straub-45|| concerts happens next month, April 12, when Pyxis Quartet and pianist Yoko Greeney will perform Akiho’s aptly-titled 2016 quintet Prospects of a Misplaced Year. More information and tickets available here and here.

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Next week, on Thursday and Friday, Third Angle New Music presents percussionists Chris Whyte and Maria Garcia performing the music of Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. Here’s what 3A has to say about it:

…disrupt the matrix with music and video by Canadian composer Nicole Lizée, whose glitching works are equal parts 80s MTV, turntablism, rave culture, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Alexander McQueen, thrash metal, psychedelia, and 60s modernism.

What, you didn’t know the piano is technically a percussion instrument? Glitch is at 3A’s usual venue, New Expressive Works, and you can get your tickets right here.

Three Mississippi…

There might be no better place than Mississippi Studios in North Portland to see Roselit Bone perform–though it might only seem that way because it’s where we saw them first, opening for Federale. We followed up with bandleader Charlotte McCaslin upon the release of their subsequent album, last year’s scrumptious Ofrenda (read our interview here), and have been anxiously awaiting their return to Olé Miss.

Next Friday, March 8, they’ll perform with STRZYGA, a gothy Portland quartet featuring Roselit Bone’s original drummer and trumpeter and named after a slavic demon. Sounds just about right, doesn’t it? Tickets available here.

The next evening, Saturday the 9th, Mississippi hosts Eyelids. This Portland band is about to release their 20th vinyl pressing in 10 years, an almost King Gizzardly level of fecundity. Check out their back catalog and preview the upcoming No Jigsaw over here at their Bandcamp page (just in time for today’s Return of the Fee Free Friday).

The following Thursday, the 15th, it’s another Mississippi album release party–the post-punky Yuvees, unveiling their new album Dead Keys. They compare themselves to Pere Ubu (the Ohio band, not the Jarry antihéros), an audibly appropriate self-appelation. Check out 2020’s Human Dance and you’ll hear it too.

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You could probably also throw in the early work of similarly pronky bands like Cardiacs, Devo, Geza X, X-Ray Spex, the first couple of XTC albums, even that crazy late-70s Oingo Boingo stuff from around the time they were shedding half their name and half their members. Opening for Yuvees are a pair of other gonzo Portland bands, Ogre and Guitar. Tickets available here, though if you really keep your ear to the railroad tracks you can probably catch all these bands in some NoPo basement for free.

Bully for Beethoven

Chamber Music Northwest is going Beethoven crazy this year. Their summer festival features a ton of music by the deadest and whitest and Europeanest and manliest of dead white European man composers, alongside a fair amount of stuff by living composers (John Luther Adams, Kenji Bunch, Stewart Goodyear, Marc Neikrug, Joan Tower, Jörg Widmann) and decomposers (Brahms, Bernstein, Bartók). You’ll hear more about that from us in due time; meanwhile, you can check out their Sneak Preview Brochure right here, and this Monday, March 4, you can attend a Festival Highlights Zoom session with CMNW artistic directors Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim (more about that here).

But CMNW is so Beethoven crazy they can’t wait until summer. They can barely even wait until spring. This month, Chien and Kim partner with cellist Paul Watkins (freshly free of his Emerson Quartet duties) to perform all nine of Beethoven’s piano trios across three concerts March 9-16. It would be simple enough, in an OCD kind of way, to rip through em all in order–but that would be more-or-less impossible, because you’d have to deal with varying dates of composition, performance, and publication. Already you’re scratching your head, thinking “Beethoven only published seven piano trios, plus various other works for that configuration but not named ‘piano trio,’ so what gives?”

Allow us to sort it all out for you.

The seven works bearing the name Piano Trio are: Op. 1, nos. 1-3, in Eb major, G major, and C minor (forming a nice III-V-i cadence for the music theory nerds); Op. 11 in Bb major; Op. 70, nos. 1 & 2, in D major (“Ghost”) and Eb major; and Op. 97 in Bb major (“Archduke”). Those are the famous ones, especially the two with the nicknames. CMNW rounds this out with two sets of variations for piano trio. The Op. 44 in Eb major was one of Beethoven’s earliest professional compositions, composed in 1892 but published a decade later. His Op. 121a in G major, the “Kakadu variations,” was started around 1804, finished around 1816, and published 1824. (“Kakadu” is German for “cockatoo,” which may or may not be yet another example of Ludwig’s madness for songbirds.) These nine stretch nicely across Beethoven’s three major periods, weighted more heavily towards his early period when he was a rock star, with a couple entries each from his middle and late periods.

Chien, Kim, and Watkins have them arranged in a well-balanced arc. March 9’s “Dawn of a New Age” program starts right up with Op. 1, No. 1 (scratching that OCD itch after all) alongside the two Op. 70 trios. On March 14’s “Breaking Boundaries” you get the other two Op. 1 trios plus the Op. 44 trio which predates them; this is the “all early stuff” concert. March 16’s “Triumph & Transcendence” program closes the mini-festival with the early-ish Op. 11, the late “Archduke,” and the long-gestating “Kakadu.” You can also hear the trio in an open rehearsal on March 14. The whole thing is going down at The Old Church in Southwest Portland, and you can read more about it right here.

On the 23rd, Portland Chamber Orchestra welcomes back Dr. Larry Sherman, OHSU neurologist and author of Every Brain Needs Music: The Neuroscience of Making and Listening to Music. Sherman was one of the stars of last year’s PCO Valentine’s Day concert “How your Brain Responds to Music, Love and Chocolate” (read more about that in Angela Allen’s review here), and will make two appearances with PCO this year. This month’s concert, A Feast of Beethoven, isn’t a multi-media affair like the “love & chocolate” one; rather, Sherman will present a pre-concert talk on Beethoven titled “Beethoven’s Music: Genius, Curiosity, Liver Disease, and Lead.” Here’s how PCO describes that:

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Nearly 197 years ago, Ludwig van Beethoven died in Vienna, Austria, at the age of 56. Toward the end of his life, he suffered from chronic pain. But through it all, he created some of the most innovative and lasting music in human history. Dr. Sherman will explore the neuroscience behind Beethoven’s musical talent and explore how recent revelations about his genetic background and health impacted his creativity.

Shall we propose a 56 Club, corresponding to the famous 27 Club, to commemorate musicians who had a full and rich career but still died too young? Such a club would put Beethoven in good company–Rick James, Linda McCartney, Charles Mingus, Sinead O’Connor, Grover Washington, and Warren Zevon all died at 56.

Anyways, PCO will follow that up with an all-Beethoven concert conducted by Ken Selden of Portland State University fame: the Coriolan Overture, the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major (with Mei-Ting Sun), and the Seventh Symphony. That’s right, dear reader, you can hear two different Beethoven symphonies this month! The Feast is at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, lecture at 6:30 and concert at 7:30. More information and tickets available here.

At the centre of it all

We leave you with an oddly-timed follow-up to last month’s Oregon Symphony Blackstar concert (read about that here). On March 22 at McMenamin’s Mission Theater in Northwest Portland, Christopher Brown Quartet will be playing the entirety of David Bowie’s bizarre and beautiful final album, a continuation of their ongoing exploration of the departed maestro’s ouvre (they performed Blackstar last year too, and performed Aladdin Sane earlier this year).

Here’s what Brown has to say about playing Bowie’s music:

For the past several years my quartet has presented its take on several different David Bowie albums… What makes Bowie’s music interesting is that unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t rest on his past hits to sustain his career. Instead, he kept creating, and in a way that was an honest expression of his musical interests. And while he continued to evolve with the times, he still stayed true to the musical theatre, rock & roll, R&B, and Jazz aesthetic that marked the beginning of his career as an artist. And as such, this kind of creative ethos is what makes his music and what we do as a group so compatible. Therefore, we look forward to showcasing yet again what can be created when two different musical aesthetics collide (yet joined by the same creative ethos).

The significance of this event is that it pays tribute to both Bowie’s last album release and his passing from liver cancer on Jan 10th, 2016 just two days after the album’s release (as well as his 69th birthday). And given that his final recording would be his greatest attempt at incorporating as much of the Jazz aesthetic as it did, only makes it fitting that a group such as this would be poised to best highlight and preserve Bowie’s progressive musical vision.

However, like all tributes to the memory of a well-loved individual, it wouldn’t be complete without a festive celebration of their life and past accomplishments, which is why we’ve also included a trip down memory lane with many of his old classics (done our way of course), in addition to an opportunity for us all to come together in solidarity around his memory as we collectively perform some of these songs.

More information and tickets are available here.

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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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