MusicWatch Monthly: Get outside

Classical music moves outdoors

Correction: in my article “Festivals of the Future,” I said that the Oregon Symphony had kept its musicians employed during the pandemic when this was not in fact the case; they were laid off near the beginning of the pandemic. While they have continued to release videos and performances, many OSO musicians have been unemployed for the last year. I want to correct this mistake out of respect for the musicians of the Oregon Symphony.

Although the calendar says we have a few more weeks of spring, summer is here. COVID-19 numbers are down thanks to over half of Oregonians receiving their vaccinations. The Blazers gave the Denver Nuggets and Nikolai Jokic a hard time in the NBA playoffs (Dame scored 55 points in Monday’s incredible game), and we also have a steady schedule of Thorns and Timbers games to look forward to. June 1 broke record temperatures at 95 degrees, though I was able to keep cool with a nice hike through Forest Park with my partner.

Many venues are booking shows again, from big names at the Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum to indie-rockers at the Roseland Theater and Wonder Ballroom. House shows are still up in the air, though that’s not the sort of thing that gets major press releases. 

Keeping up

Many groups around the Metro have released content so regularly that it can be hard to keep up. The Creative Musicians Guild, for instance, has kept their Social Distancing Project going. You can check that out here for some creative soundplay by Matt Hannafin, Branic Howard and company. This month’s Sound Walk with Third Angle heads to Cully Park in Northeast, with music by Sarah Tiedemann in thoughtful collaboration with Oregon’s Native American population and drumming group Four Directions. 

45th Parallel Universe has kept up an impressive stream of concert videos over the last year, with more coming each week. Some of their highlights of the last month include their one year performance of Terry Riley’s In C and Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union. Both pieces share a collectivist outlook, with open instrumentation encouraging any number of musicians to join in the creation of music as equal participants in a conductorless ensemble. 

The concert with Workers Union also includes the music of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who has a penchant for clarinet music. His Clarinet Concerto, written for Finnish clarinetist Kari Kriikku in 2002, may be one of the most praised concerti of the last twenty years, and he has written extensively for clarinet in a chamber setting. It makes sense: the clarinet’s agility makes it the perfect expressive vehicle for Lindberg’s dizzying, dissonant yet still tonal style. James Shields, local clarinettist extraordinaire, handled the Clarinet Quintet’s wild arpeggios with ease. I spent a lot of my time at home during last year studying orchestral scores, and Lindberg was one of my favorites, so I was happy to hear it performed live (well, live-streamed). 

We will have some more in-depth coverage of 45th Parallel Universe’s audacious year soon, so stay tuned for that.

Orchestral maneuvers

June will be the month of the Classical Up Close festival, returning for a month of intimate-yet-distanced performances. The shows take place throughout the metro, with shows in Milwaukee, Oregon City, Lake Oswego and Beaverton. Each concert will be for a chamber ensemble, with repertoire ranging from classics by Mozart and Haydn, Baroque violin duos, modern works by Bartók and Lutosławski, tango, jazz and all sorts of things–you can find specifics on their programs here.

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One not to miss will be the June 4th performance in Oregon City with Andy Akiho, featuring some of his own pieces. You can keep up with the schedule of events on Facebook or Twitter, and follow Joe Cantrell and Bob Hicks’ feature series right here on ArtsWatch.

The 5th features part three of PYP Fest, a series of commissions for Portland Youth Philharmonic’s smaller breakout ensembles (winds, strings). PYP has kept young musicians engaged through their festival–as has Metropolitan Youth Symphony, who had their season finale concert at the end of May. This edition of PYP Fest includes a couple familiar names among their commissions (Texu Kim, Nancy Ives), along with 11-year old Skye Neal, a promising young composer working with Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project.

Friends of Chamber Music announced their 2021-22 season last month, with a lineup of familiar names, including Rachel Barton Pine, Sybarite5, the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble and the Takács Quartet. We will have more in-depth coverage of those events when they become nearer.

The Vancouver Symphony also just announced their 2021/22 season. Tickets will be available for in-person concerts at Skyview Concert Hall or for live-streamed concerts at home (I’m probably not the only former high school band kid who remembers Skyview for the nasty hill on the descent to the stadium field). Tickets will also go on sale soon for VSO’s 2021 Gala, scheduled for September 17.

On June 12, Portland Columbia Symphony gives a concert in Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham, near NE 181st and Glisan. I believe this is the first in-person orchestra concert in Portland in over a year, and will give us that outdoor orchestra experience that LA Phil fans enjoy(ed) regularly at the Hollywood Bowl (where Thundercat and Flying Lotus are doing a free concert for essential workers, which–along with a later performance by Kamasi Washington and Earl Sweatshirt–makes moving to the concrete desert of LA seem almost appealing).

Homecomings

The first half of the returning Makrokosmos Project arrives on June 24. Each Makrokosmos concert feels like a homecoming for Portland’s classical music world, one of the big events to look forward to each summer. This year however it will be split between two nights–two months in fact–and two venues, with Portland Piano Company in NE and the Japanese Gardens replacing the Vestas building. No word yet on the wine, cheese and other accoutrement. 

Makrokosmos 7 is titled Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (after the series of short pieces by Joan Tower), and honors long-serving Supreme Court Justice and ur-Girlboss Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a celebration of uncommon womanhood, the concert program is exclusively composed of works by women, including the complete piano duos of Meredith Monk, along with works by Keiko Abe, Caroline Shaw, Juri Seo and others. 

Lark Opera–who brought Mozart to wine country last fall–returns with two performances of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. They’ll be at Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul (near Champoeg State Park) on the 6th and at Utopia Vineyards in Newberg on the 26th. Reserve your tickets here.

The Lot at Zidell Yard off Moody Avenue will be hosting a vast assortment of artists this month, including PSU’s concert choir, the OSO Brass section, Cardioid (read Robert Ham’s recent profile here) and Edna Vasquez. This will be PSU concert choir’s first live concert since March 2020 (how many times have I written that phrase!). This concert is called Fully Vaccinated, describing the vaccination status of the ensemble. They will still be performing six feet apart, with a wide repertoire including director Ethan Sperry’s popular arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” There will be an afternoon show at 2 pm and an evening show at 7 pm on June 6. Later in the month on the 18th and 19th, brass players from the Oregon Symphony will play music by the aforementioned Joan Tower, Piazzola and Bizet’s Carmen. Tickets are sold in groups of 2, 4 or 6, perfect for a family or a group of friends.

The 29th brings Chamber Music Northwest to Nordia House, with the debut performance of the Jupiter String Quartet with CMNW. Also featured are Artistic Director and Paganini International Violin Competition winner Soovin Kim with members of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra. The upcoming CMNW Summer Festival will return in-person to Kaul Auditorium at Reed College for the entirety of July. If you prefer to stay home, the concerts will be broadcast online two weeks after their premieres. 

This month we also say farewell to Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Artistic Director Monica Huggett. We have been lucky to have such an accomplished musician in our midst for so many years. For the 2021-22 season, the Artistic Advisors will take over direction: Aisslinn Nosky, Byron Schenkman, Gary Thor Wedow and Johnathan Woody. The PBO also just released their wonderful performance of 17th century Italian love songs by soprano Arwen Meyers and theorbist John Lenti. The rest of their concerts from the last year can be found on their Great Arts. Period. site. 

The Oregon Symphony’s project Studio 125 is the place to go for catching up with all their content, including the Carlos@18 sessions with Carlos Kalmar. The most recent video includes Strauss’ String Sextet and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s String Quartet, the latter of which is quite a radical piece for an American in the 1930s. They also just released a performance of Starburst by Jessie Montgomery and Rossini’s String Sonata 6.

Black music matters

PDX Jazz and the Jack London Revue will be hosting a Juneteenth livestream at 1 pm. Juneteenth–the June 19th celebration of the emancipation of all slaves–has been celebrated in Oregon since 1945, and is now finally recognized as a state holiday. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect two years earlier, it wasn’t until June 19, 1965 when slaves in the Lone Star State were officially freed. The passage of the new bill is vindication of the hard work of Clara Peoples, who brought the tradition from Oklahoma to Oregon, and the organization she formed, Juneteenth Oregon. The first state observance will be in 2022, though we can still rejoice for Freedom Day this year. 

Juneteenth Oregon’s celebration will feature a day of live music and guest appearances by Kate Brown, Jeff Merkeley and Mel Brown. The lineup spans the breadth of Black music, from soulful RnB artist Parisalexa and Cool Nutz’s distinctly west-coast take on that chopped-soul hip-hop sound to jazz and gospel group Donna Jones and the Delegation. Jack London Revue’s live stream will include performances by Malian blues guitarist Vieux Farka Touré (son of desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Touré) and London band Sons of Kemet. This live-stream is a preview of sorts for the long-awaited return of live jazz in Portland: Farka Touré will play the Star Theater on September 12, and Sons of Kemet follow on April 9.

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About the author

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Sonic Arts and Music Production in 2019. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. In addition to composing, he is a sound engineer for chamber music group FearNoMusic and is an editor of the Portland State music journal Subito.

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