All Classical Radio James Depreist

MusicWatch Monthly: From doom to bloom with symphony orchestras and other cover bands

The 1905 continues to reopen; Eugene Symphony performs “Star Wars” and Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony”; Major Tomboys do the Lazarus trick.

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Marcus Aurelius, becoming more powerful than you could possibly imagine.
Marcus Aurelius, becoming more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

Let’s begin with a few follow-ups. How are you? Are you enjoying this lovely and oh-so-Oregon spring? Are you getting enough Vitamin D and eating your greens and spending time in the real world with your tribe? Great!

Last time we talked about local bands Doombia and Strzyga. If you missed them at Shanghai Tunnel Bar–or if you were there, and you loved it, and you want to see them again–you get a second chance at both this month. On the 3rd (this Friday, if you’re reading this on or around May Day) Doombia plays with another doomy band, Fox Medicine, who describe themselves as “bubblegum doom.”

It’s probably inevitable, in an age of nerve-wracking climate chaos and wild political instability, that music’s innumerable subgenres would all start to have an element of doom. Hell, even Taylor Swift has gotten in on it, sort of. It’s only a matter of time until actual doom bands like YOB will have to append “doom” to their descriptors too. They’ll have to call themselves “doom doom,” in a weird echo of that adolescent distinction between whether someone likes you or like likes you. In physics they call this “Von Neumann’s Catastrophe.”

Doombia and Fox Medicine perform with Collar de Lunas and notorious Los Angeles “two-man voodoo mayhem band” The Peculiar Pretzelmen on May 3 at Dantes on West Burnside. Get your information and tickets right here.

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The following Wednesday, May 8, Strzyga is across the river at Lollipop Shoppe with two other Portland bands. Lies We Were Told describe themselves as “Heavy and melodic, pulling from post-punk, darkwave, pop and gothic themes.” Wet Velvet has this: “Gothic post-punk band from underneath the overcast skies of PDX. Lament, dread and hexes galore.” Meanwhile Strzyga, as we’ve mentioned before, is named after a demon; in their own words, “their music explores themes of historical mayhem, religious horror, and personal relationships with death and disease.”

Notice a theme emerging here?

Strzyga, Lies We Were Told, and Wet Velvet play May 8 at Lollipop Shoppe. Tickets and more info available here.

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A Blue Hope

Daryl Browne already told you all about Bravo! Northwest Choir’s upcoming concert of Gershwin and Brubeck in her most recent choral column; here’s what she had to say about it:

The variety of styles and genres in the Bravo! Concerts Northwest program on May 5 should make for a lovely afternoon of music. George Gershwin’s jazzy Rhapsody in Blue is 100 years old but still being introduced anew to modern audiences, this time in a piano/clarinet transcription. Bravo Artistic Director and Conductor Michael Kissinger sets aside his baton to perform on clarinet, with BCNW co-founder and Music Director Maria Manzo at the piano.

The choral forces then present a rare treat, To Hope! A Celebration, the wonderful choral mass by Dave Brubeck. You might know the small-combo Brubeck sound (read about his recently released Live In The Northwest, 1959 album here) but this is the jazz genius bringing his Catholic faith and full compositional skills to a sacred genre. It’s wonderful – fully scored but allowing for jazz improvisation to shine. Here’s Brubeck himself performing his 1979 Mass.

Rounding out the concert will be Jazz Psalms for Peace by conductor Kissinger who has expanded three earlier Psalms into a 20-minute five Psalm suite for SATB choir, piano, bass, drums, clarinet.

That’s on the fifth, and you can get a good sense of all this by checking out Kissinger and Manzo performing Messiaen and Copland, and Brubeck performing his Mass:

Meanwhile, resurrected jazz club The 1905 keeps hopping. They’ve got shows scheduled for 19 of May’s 31 nights, starring a perfect cast of classic Oregon jazz musicians from Dan Balmer on the 1st to George Colligan on the 31st. In between you’ve got Christopher Brown (twice, on the 8th and 29th) and his famous pops Mel Brown (the 26th); Noah Simpson twice (with Joe Manis on the 4th and BrandonLee Cierley on the 24th); and, well, plenty more. Get the full lineup at the venue’s website.

One show stands out to this writer: Machado Mijiga, who is always always always up to some cool shit. He’s at The 1905 with pianist Misha Piatagorsky on May 11 (more info and tickets here). Piatigorsky played at The 1905 last year and it sounded like this:

As for Mijiga, we’d rather point you to the three most recent additions to his vast and ever-growing discography (just in time for the next Bandcamp Fee Free Friday). All three were released this year, which isn’t even half over yet, which gives you a sense of the man’s prolificity. January’s Frame of Reference is Mijiga in “one man band” mode. Here’s what he has to say about it:

Frame Of Reference is an afro-futurist beat tape that combines African diasporic rhythms with neo-classical harmony to create a soundscape that is oddly nostalgic, yet unfamiliar.

Imagine yourself as an ancestor of the past, exploring the worlds of the future.

This is modern day impressionism in beat tape form– each track forms its own narrative that is unique to you, the listener. There is no subtext here, just sounds that explore the vast universe and hopefully evoke some abstract thought.

This beat tape is an assortment of compositions of mine throughout 2023, and you can find visual loops that accompany each track on my Instagram page, with a bit of scrolling.All instruments, production, mixing, mastering, liner notes, and artwork by me.

Recorded in my bedroom using entirely virtual MIDI instruments on a 37-key Yamaha CP Reface mini keyboard (drums included; played in by hand).

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February’s release, Yesteryear, is Mijiga’s version of a set of recordings he made in collaboration with Brandon Harris. This one involves aleatory!

Some of these songs were made with the music dice that Brandon made a while back; each die had something different on it related to music (e.g., time signatures, chords, modes, etc), resulting in some meter and harmonic combination that Brandon had never played before.

Finally, March brought us 2uo, Mijiga’s collaboration with Creative Music Guild artistic director Mike Gamble, also known as Probably the Best Guitarist in Oregon (we need that “Probably” to forestall fist fights with Peter Buck and Mike Scheidt). Mijiga hosted CMG’s Outset Series in March before heading out on tour with Gamble, a tour that took them from Los Angeles through Corvallis back to Portland’s No Fun last Sunday.

Fear no more

Once again Fear No Music has programmed a concert of music by composers who all happen to be women without anyone making a big deal out of it. The composers are all contemporary, and all over the place stylistically–de rigueur for FNM. The concert, Monologues and Dialogues, happens on FNM Monday, May 6, at their usual venue, The Old Church in Downtown Portland. The program, according to an email we recently received from FNM executive director and pianist Monica Ohuchi, looks like this:

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Kate Soper: Only The Words Themselves Mean What They Say
Madeline Ross, Amelia Lukas

Reena Esmail: Take What You Need
Kenji Bunch

Gemma Peacocke: Fear of Flying
Amelia Lukas

Phyllis Chen: Tell Me A Tale
Jeff Payne (2 toy pianos)

Anna Þorvaldsdóttir: Hvolf
Madeline Ross, Jeff Payne

Dobrinka Tabakova: Suite in Jazz Style
Kenji Bunch, Monica Ohuchi

Good lord! Jeff Payne with two toy pianos; Ross and Lukas performing together–that’s enough for us! And you can hear the Tabakova twice: Bunch and Ohuchi will be playing and discussing it at the previous day’s De-Mystifying New Music Concert at Reed College. Information about the evening concert and late morning “lecture/performance”–both free–is available here and here.

Mother stands for comfort

The last time author and OHSU neuroscientist Dr. Larry Sherman collaborated with Portland Chamber Orchestra and Naomi LaViolette, the result was last February’s multi-media Valentine’s Day presentation “How your Brain Responds to Music, Love and Chocolate,” which ArtsWatch correspondent Angela Allen described as a “scientifically unstuffy presentation about brain pathways that light up and hormones and chemicals that surface when we feel pleasure.”

With music always residing on the top-ten list of pleasure hits, it’s no surprise that ideas about love and love songs danced cheek-to-cheek in this hour-and-a-half program. At the end of the show, if kisses and handholding were clues, people realized they were more in love, more committed, or adored chocolate more fervently than when they walked in. And, unlike many classical-music concerts, the audience represented a diverse spectrum of gender and orientation.

If anyone can bring the science of love and pleasure down to earth—how we get it and experience it– based on heady brain research, it’s Sherman. He can explain how we sometimes lose touch with pleasure and love, and how such conditions as addiction, depression or unrequited love occur when brain paths and chemicals go awry.

This time around, PCO and Sherman and LaViolette are celebrating a different holiday. And, same as last year, the concert is on the day itself: The Mother and Child Union: A Musical, Poetic, and Neuroscientific Journey is on Mother’s Day, May 12, at The Reser. Here’s what PCO has to say about it:

In this multi-media event, we celebrate mothers through a combination of classical and modern music, poetry, and a fascinating look into all the ways that motherhood changes the brains of both mothers and children throughout their lives. The program will be narrated by author, public speaker, and neuroscientist Dr. Larry Sherman, who will talk about how a mother’s brain changes during pregnancy and after birth, the neuroscience of the bonding that occurs in the brains of mothers and children, what happens when mothers sing to their children, and how a mother’s brain changes with their experiences with their children over the course of their lives. These discussions will be highlighted by music that celebrates motherhood and all of its wonders and challenges. The show will also highlight all of these concepts with readings of the poetry of Ann Taylor, Nikita Gill, Margaret Hasse, and Alice Walker, as well as visual art that celebrates mothers and their children, and illustrations that highlight the amazing changes that happen in mothers’ brains and the brains of their children as they bond and grow together.

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The motherhood theme continues the following Tuesday, May 14, at Alberta Rose Theatre, when Oregon Symphony presents its Lullaby Project concert. According to OSO, the Lullaby Project “uses the creative process of songwriting to improve well-being and child bonds with parents experiencing housing insecurity and other challenging life situations. Together with musicians from the Oregon Symphony and local singer-songwriters, parents and parents-to-be are creating personal lullabies for their children, expressing their hopes and dreams for the future.”

This year’s list of local singer-songwriters is impressive. LaViolette is here too, and it’s a busy month for this versatile musician–she accompanied Oregon Repertory Singers last weekend, plays tomorrow night (May 2) at White Eagle Saloon with her trio The Cider Janes, and is probably singing the national anthem for somebody or other in between.

Also on the roster are several other names you probably recognize from the Oregon music scene: Amenta Abioto, Sarah Clarke, Bre Gregg, Gabriel Kahane, Marilyn Keller, Stephanie Schneiderman, Marianna Thielen, and Anna Tivel.

OSO has a few other noteworthy concerts coming up. On May 10-13 they’ll perform Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini–another work on the present author’s “essential dead white European male composer” list, with Macedonian pianist and famed Rachmaninoff interpreter Simon Trpčeski as soloist–plus a bit of music by Tabakova. That’s twice in one week you get to hear Tabakova’s music in Oregon this month.

Here’s where we have to, as usual, do a bit of whining. Unlike FNM–who will perform all of the Suite in Old Style–OSO is only performing one third of the Earth Suite (“Timber & Steel”), leaving us to wonder why they couldn’t have just programmed the whole thing. You can hear Tabakova’s entire Earth Suite performed by the Manchester orchestra Hallé on this 2023 recording (which also includes her concertos for viola and for cello). 

A new lease on life

We have sad news for you, dear reader: the myth of the eagle reborn is a “myth” in both the sense that it is timeless and inspiring and also in the sense that it’s not actually literally true. Here’s the myth we’re referring to, in this formulation by Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson:

A presentation entitled “The Rebirth of the Eagle” (or “The Story of the Eagle”) began hitting the Snopes.com inbox in May 2007. The presentation explains that by the time an eagle reaches the age of 30 or so, its physical condition has deteriorated to the point that survival is difficult: its talons lose their flexibility and cannot properly grip prey, its beak becomes dull and bent, and its wing feathers grow thick and heavy, sticking to its chest and impairing its flight.

So the bird then retreats to a mountaintop, where over a five-month period it sequentially knocks off its beak by banging it against a rock, plucks out its talons, and then plucks out its feathers, each stage producing a regrowth of the removed body parts that “renews” the eagle and allows it to live for another 30 to 40 years.

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It’s a lovely story, of course, and one we can draw inspiration from whether it’s true or not–right? Does it need to be literally true to be spiritually true? Why do we even need such stories to guide us? Is it just the human condition or what?

Anyways, we mention it here with the flimsiest possible excuse for a tenuous connection: the next time you get to hear the music of the Immortal Johann Sebastian Bach performed in Oregon is at the McMenamins White Eagle Saloon and Rock & Roll Hotel in North Portland. On May 18, at 3 o’clock in the damn afternoon, it’s “The BACH Dialogues” with pianist Christopher O’Riley and cellist Matt Haimovitz.

“O’Riley, O’Riley…” you’re thinking. Yes, this is the guy who made such a splash twenty years ago when he started playing solo piano arrangements of Radiohead songs for classical audiences during his long stint as the host of NPR’s From the Top, thereby immortalizing both himself and the Yorke-Greenwood nexus. Meantime, Haimovitz has been doing more-or-less the same-but-opposite thing with Bach, performing the Great Master’s work in bars and nightclubs and whatnot. They’re both fine and well-regarded classical musicians, and could have simply built careers in the usual Ivory Tower manner. Instead, they’ve built bridges. Naturally, they’ve been friends and collaborators for the last few decades. You can hear their 2016 album Shuffle.Play.Listen right here:

These two got in on the whole “Historically Informed Performance” game too–they recorded Beethoven’s cello sonatas on period instruments and have lately been using a variety of means to “realize a dream to enter into Bach’s Platonic timbral world.” Here’s what they have to say about the program they’ll perform at White Eagle this month:

Acclaimed musicians Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz defy convention in “The BACH Dialogues,” a concert that breaks boundaries and reimagines the music of a legend. Forget stuffy recitals! This is an exploration where Baroque meets cutting-edge technology, and iconic sonatas get a vibrant new lease on life.

Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz have a voracious and expansive appetite for a wide range of music from various genres, from Radiohead and Pussy Riot to Beethoven Sonatas on period instruments. Bach’s favored keyboard instrument was the clavichord, expressive and intimate, yet so inaudible that its diminutive sonic range pose challenges for the concert hall. With their forthcoming collaboration focusing on Bach’s Sonatas for Viola da Gamba, O’Riley and Haimovitz realize a dream to enter into Bach’s Platonic timbral world. Mr. Haimovitz arranges the Viola da Gamba part for his 5-string baroque cello piccolo – on which he recorded the Sixth Solo Suite of Bach; with the advent of next generation sound sampling, ‘physical modeling’, Mr. O’Riley has amassed an arsenal of virtual/historical instruments, now capable even of vibrato on his digital keyboard, and easily amplified to concert level. O’Riley & Haimovitz perform the three original Bach Gamba Sonatas and C Major Trio Sonata, a virtuoso vehicle highlighting the coloratura high range of the cello piccolo. Solo Preludes and Fugues of Bach from the Well-Tempered Klavier and the Cello Suites, are interstitially arranged to fill out the set.

We just love that. No broken beaks required. Tickets and info for this one available here.

More powerful than you could possibly imagine

This weekend, the Eugene Symphony performs the music of a man who’s destined to be remembered as one of the greatest of all U.S. composers: John Williams. He doesn’t always get framed that way, since most of his work has been done for film, but set that bias aside and you realize that Williams is more important to “classical” music in this country than Gershwin and Bernstein and Philip Glass and any other combination you care to propose. Imagine dismissing Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky as “ballet composers.” Imagine dismissing Bach as a “church composer.” We feel confident predicting that a century hence Williams will be remembered as the greatest American composer of all time. Low stakes on that prediction, of course, since we’ll all be dead by then. But we feel good about it anyways.

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On May the Fourth–the unofficial Star Wars holiday, because nerds love few things more than puns–the Eugene Symphony performs the iconic score for the first (and second-greatest) film in the sprawling Star Wars saga, originally known simply as Star Wars and later re-titled Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. They’ll perform the music live, synched to a showing of the movie itself, meaning you not only get to hear this music performed by a symphony orchestra, just as the gods intended, you also get to see a tremendously entertaining classic science fiction movie on the big screen. Win/win! Tickets and info for this one right here.

Next up for Eugene Symphony is another beautifully hopeful magnum opus, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, better known as the Resurrection Symphony. A few weeks ago when we were discussing the dead white dudes, we mentioned Mahler’s works as essential to every cultured being’s musical education. This particular work is one that would make a top ten list, if we had to make one, which fortunately we don’t. If you’ve heard it before, or know anything about it, you hardly need to be told–you already got your tickets to the May 23 concert right here.

And if you do need to be told…well, I mean, gosh, did you see Maestro?

The Eugene Symphony Chorus joins the orchestra for the Mahler, and opens the concert a cappella with Amy Beach’s Three Responses–all three of ‘em!

The road goes ever on and on

You can probably still get tickets to see China Forbes at The Reser this month–originally it was just going to be May 18, but they added a second concert on the 19th (and a third in Salem in June). “Forbes, Forbes…” you’re thinking. Yes, this is the original lead singer of Pink Martini–she joined shortly after their formation in 1994 and could be considered a co-founder. She’s been singing and writing songs with them in a dozen-plus languages for going on three decades. She’s releasing a solo album of her own material this month–Full Circle, out May 17–and celebrating with these hometown release concerts before heading out on tour.

You can get tickets and more information right here, and get a sample of Forbes’ solo work with this video of her performing the title track right here:

Under the covers

We leave you with two tribute band shows, both on the same night at the end of the month, on either side of the river. Tribute bands–cover bands who dedicate themselves to covering the songs of only one artist–represent one of the more curious forms of immortality. All symphony orchestras are cover bands, of course, although we don’t call them that, mainly because they play Beethoven instead of the Beatles. But the principle is the same: this music deserves to outlive its creators.

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On the west side of the Willamette, it’s three bands covering bands that are still alive…(cue ominous music)…for now. On May 31 at Dantes on West Burnside, it’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (The Cure) and Constant Debauchery (Depeche Mode) and Louder Than Moz (The Smiths). There’s something strangely life-affirming about all three of these bands, whose music is gloomy af. Maybe it’s because they’re all British and oh-so-sexy.

The same night, across the river and up the peninsula at Polaris Hall on North Killingsworth, it’s an “all-femme” David Bowie tribute band with the astonishingly perfect name Major Tomboys. That’s a helluva name, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the name came first and the band coalesced around it. Here’s how the band describes themselves:

Ziggy Stardust fell to Earth once upon a time. It is the mission of Major Tomboys to pay tribute to his god-given ass.

Major Tomboys is Portland’s all-femme David Bowie tribute band founded by Renée Muzquiz (lead singer/guitar) and Lauren Hatch (keyboard) in the summer of 2018. There was a flash of lightning, an explosion of glitter, and suddenly a band was formed (the real story is a lot less exciting and involves the magic of Craigslist, but don’t tell anyone).

As self-proclaimed Bowie nerds, Major Tomboys love to dress up in costumes and share their interpretations of his music with those who also long to rock out in their frock coats and bipperty bopperty hats. From “Wham bam, thank you, ma’am” to “Ch-ch-ch-changes,” they’ll have you singing along with your favorite tracks before you know it.

In the past, you may have seen them at Pride parties, Rose City Rollers’ events, the Risk/Reward Festival and more. Joined by Ruba Tuesday (lead guitar), Sarah FitzGerald (bass), Jolie Clausen (drums) and new addition Dani Tanzella (saxophone), they are finally back from their pandemic hiatus and ready to be rockin’ rollin’ bitches for you!

Well? Don’t squawk like a pink monkey bird; put your space face close to mine, love, and get your tickets 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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One Response

  1. Hey Matt,
    Thanx very much for the ears wide open heads-up about two works by Dobrinka Tabakova being performed in Global Village PDX this very week:

    1 – TONIGHT: “Suite in Jazz Style” for viola & piano on FNM’s 7:30 concert at The Old Church

    2 – This coming weekend: “Timber & Steel” on OSO’s Sat, Sun & Mon concerts at The Schnitz

    As you might recall, I generally love Dobrinka’s music & truly believe her to be one of the most gifted composers of our time.

    Cheers,
    Bob

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