MusicWatch Monthly: Labors of love

Opera on the lawn, cyborg music, and more clamouring

Today we’d like to shine light on some of the rose gardens Oregon musicians have been tending lately, from an outdoor opera in Newberg to a sci-fi surf bunker in McMinnville. But before we get to those labors of love, the roses need fertilizer–so we’d like to turn the mic over to fearless FearNoMusic Artistic Director and violist-composer-father Kenji Bunch, who has something to say on behalf of the City of Roses.

Hey Donald–Portland is a city of bridges that bring people together, roses that fill us with gratitude for nature, and books that we open humbly to learn about the world and the human condition.

Its people are artists, poets, writers, and musicians; builders, thinkers, and innovators who create rather than destroy, and who summon the courage to find and listen to their own voice. We value the expression and exchange of ideas, even if these ideas seem extreme and these exchanges get messy.

Portland is a city of fancy doughnuts and fussy coffee. This might seem silly and precious, but we find joy in making art out of quotidian experiences.

We use words like quotidian not to be obnoxious, but because words are themselves art, and are worth enjoying and choosing carefully.

Like much of the country, Portland has old wounds that never fully healed, and now those infected wounds have swollen to the breaking point. We’re hurting and yes, we are a mess. But in that mess is honesty and truth that will help us heal and to build anew something healthier for us all.

What we don’t need is you. I’m afraid you won’t understand any of the words leading up to these next few, written in the blunt, crude style you prefer to traffic in:

Donald, you have no idea what Portland is. Get our city’s name out of your mouth.

Talk about the weather

Every year around this time, when the weather turns grey and ashy, we look up into the mottled misty skies and sigh, “yesssss, this is the Oregon we moved to.” Just look around at all that lush green, greens piled on greens, eating the sun and the rain, transmuting protons and drizzle into pure beauty (as Devo says, “can’t have a rainbow without the rain”). On the other hand, there’s an old saying for temperamental zones like Oregon: “if you don’t like the weather, wait a day.” Right now we’re rushing headlong into The Crossfade, the uncanny seasonal valley where hot, muggy, fiery summer afternoons wage desperate battles against cool breezes and rainy fall weekends.

So when we got word that a baker’s dozen of Portland-based opera singers had the audacity to stage an outdoor performance of The Magic Flute, and we just happened to have recently watched Jurassic Park, we naturally thought of Goldblum’s meme-fated catchphrase, “life, uuuhh, finds a way.” These singers got sick of not singing opera together, and did something about it. It’s about the most heroic, non-protest-related thing we’ve heard about all summer.

The first of what will hopefully become a series of concerts happens September 19 in Newberg, a charming town out past the edge of the suburbs southwest of Portland. There on the sweeping lawn of the Utopia Vineyard you can bring a picnic and a blanket, buy some local wine (or pack, ahem, brownies), and watch a semi-staged production of an opera everybody already knows so well that performing it is mainly a matter of tuning up the pipes, practicing your German, and assembling the costumes. This, as with ARCO playing Beethoven in Pioneer Square, is what the Old Stuff is for.

A second performance has already been added on the 27th at Lady Hill Winery, also in Newberg, and attendance at each is limited to seventy-five audients. But if any local Medicis feel like throwing a Mozart party at their ranch, the singers would like to hear from you:

Interested in a private performance? We may also be able to bring the opera to you!

See the “perks” for a very special option – available to one generous contributor with a suitable space.

Contact us before taking action. 🙂

Help is on the way

Please allow us further to brighten your day with this concert photo of Resonance Ensemble Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon:

We’ve seen that face at countless Resonance concerts, the smile that always shows up when the singers line up a perfectly-tuned chord or contrapuntal passage with the exquisite musical artisanship the vocal ensemble specializes in. And it always makes us think of cooking. That right there is the face you make when you walk into the kitchen and someone’s been sautéing onions and garlic, chopping rosemary, roasting peppers, baking bread. Mmmmm.

The happy news this week is Resonance’s collaboration with Ashland’s Anima Mundi productions, which just received a huzzah-worthy grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust. You remember Anima Mundi and their founders, composer Ethan Gans-Morse and poet Tiziana DellaRovere, from ArtsWatch profiles by Alice Hardesty and Gary Ferrington (read those here, here, and here).

The idea for this show, a “multimedia choral oratorio” with the timely title Six Feet Apart: Stories of Resilience and Transformation, is to collect stories from Oregon communities impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and weave those into music. That would sound a little unwieldy coming from anyone else, but this is exactly what these particular artists are especially good at. No performance dates announced yet (presumably it’ll be after their rescheduled Dreams Have No Borders concert opera premiere next March), but we’ll be standing by, ready to book a yurt on the nearby Rogue River.

Meanwhile, back in Sunny Portland, local godfather of jazz drumming Mel Brown and his B3 Organ Group are available for private parties:

Missing the legendary Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group? Have a small function coming up? Many of you have asked about private parties. In fact, the band is available for “covid safe” private parties and outdoor events.

For everyone’s safety, we have set some guidelines for these unique events: 

•Your event MUST be outside.

•Social distancing guidelines enforced, and masks required for all guests (except when seated or eating).

•Parties of 20 guests maximum. Exceptions made for winery events where band is separated from guests.

•Separate bathroom and break area provided for band.

Also, if your business would like to sponsor an event, please let us know! All inquiries please send through messenger or tracylouis@comcast.net

Thank you for helping us to keep the music alive and please be safe!

And Oregon’s favorite masked-up multi-headed sci-fi psych-surf band has finally landed:

After a couple of rehearsals in the new testing facility at Satellite Ranch we are pleased to announce that we have officially readjusted to Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational field, and will soon begin posting videos and live streaming shows directly from the Starlight Lounge here at Satellite Ranch.

We’ve noticed that things have gotten a bit hectic here on Earth during our exile on Planet X…but fear not friends…

!!! HELP IS ON THE WAY !!!

King Ghidora has always kept a recording-n-relaxation nest out in McMinnville, but their usual live routine–jumping up on pool tables and countertops and pinball machines and climbing the rafters in long-shuttered punk bars–has become unsafe for fresh reasons, and they appear to have exiled themselves into another dimension in order to undergo some type of transmogrification, resulting in (checks video), yes, a home studio live venue, basically a broadcasting bunker. Throw in some green screens and a rock climbing wall and these guys never need to leave the house again–and neither do we.

On the less grimy end of mundus imaginalis, we have the rosy Portland State Chamber Choir singing music by local composers. Their new Pandemic Premieres series showcases premiere recordings of music written by its members and alumni. First up is a Rilke setting by Jeffrey Gordon Evans, also a remarkable bass and a nimble conductor. The lovely thing about this recording (besides Evans’ delicious music) is how it was recorded: cyborg-style. The singers–an adaptable, ever-shifting cabal that keeps winning awards for its finely detailed recordings–each sang their own parts at home, and the whole thing was assembled in the Soundtrap digital production studio.

We’ll return to this theme of digitally-enabled distance music in the coming weeks, dear reader, when we’ll be surveying the embarrassment of riches that is Oregon’s Digitized Quarantine Music Scene. For now: stay frosty, stay masked, stay kind.

Letter bag

And now, it’s time to reach into the mail bag and see if we’ve heard from Cascadia Composer Jeff Winslow lately.

We have! Here’s what Mr. Winslow had to say in response to last month’s “Sour Grapes” column, in which we defended the custom of keeping quiet between symphonic movements as a form of consideration for “delicately long attention spans,” meaning listeners who derive satisfaction from soaking up a multi-movement work as a single auditory experience, unbroken by neighborly enthusiasms.

To follow Matt’s lead and focus on peripheral details, interesting to see applause between movements mentioned, but not in the way I expected. After almost two generations of clamoring (so to speak) in some quarters for a return to the more relaxed atmosphere of the 19th century, where people felt free to erupt in applause at the end (heck, the Viennese did it in the middle, the very first time Beethoven’s 9th symphony was performed in public) of an exciting section of a work, has a new generation come up who wants a return to the quasi-religious silence of the mid-20th century? Matt’s great-grandfather would be proud.

In much recent online listening, I discovered even the audience of the august Berlin Philharmonic once applauded after the opening movement of a Mahler symphony. It feels so strange to sit on your hands after a sustained climax lovingly created by roughly a hundred committed and inspired musicians finally goes BOOM. Think, not weed, but champagne.

Why not both? According to the archives, Matt’s great-grandfather was a bootlegger–and his grandfather was a rowdy truck driver. As for the applause: it might be simplest to have separate performances for separate audiences (this only works for bands who can afford to produce multiple performances of the same program.)

So you could have one performance in total silence–no talk or applause or any other noise inside the venue, ideal for fuddy-duddies and neuro-atypicals and OCD recording engineers. Then another performance, maybe the Sunday matinee, a HIP and family-friendly one with period instruments, no amplification, beer vendors in the aisles, heated political arguments in the hallways, and applause not only before and after but even during the movements, as it pleases the audience and performers, a carnivalesque theatrical atmosphere that Shakespeare might have felt at home in.

That sounds pretty grand to me, and I probably wouldn’t be the only one attending both–they’d be essentially two different concerts.

Want to support Black lives in Oregon? You can sign Resonance Ensemble’s open letter to the mayor and governor right here, and you can start learning more about racial injustice and police reform with Campaign Zero‘s #8cantwait campaign and the original Black Lives Matter.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.