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MusicWatch Monthly: May the flowers be with you

In which the Merry Month promises premieres, percussions, a plethora of Bandcamp Friday pickings, and plenty more.

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"Irises," 1889, Vincent van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 37 1/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum.
“Irises,” 1889, Vincent van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 37 1/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder

Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Alle Menschen werden Brüder,

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Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Now let’s translate that, a bit loosely, into prose:

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium–we enter, firedrunk to high heaven, into your holy sanctuary! Your magic reunites what tradition severely divided. All humans shall be family wherever your gentle wings abide.

This is the first verse of the great German Romantic poet Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which the great DWEM Ludwig van Beethoven audaciously set to some of the most glorious music the West has ever known. I mean that tune just goes on and on and on and on and on, for hundreds of years now, and we still haven’t got tired of it. It’s probably stuck in your head now, right?

Anyways, Portland Youth Philharmonic performs Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony this weekend (on Sunday, naturlich), with Portland Symphonic Choir and featured vocal soloists Vanessa Isiguen, Hannah Penn, Anthony Kalil, and Zachary Lenox. Obviously you have to go, if only to hear Penn.

Later in the month, the Portland Youth Conservatory Orchestra performs a drastically different symphony: Rachmaninoff’s Second, made extra-infamous by its use in the bizarre Michael Keaton vehicle Birdman. Also featured on this Spring Concert are the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble performing some Strauss (Johann, not Richard) plus various newish composers (including Quinn Mason), and Portland Youth Percussion Ensemble performing Brian Slawson’s Cemetery Salsa.

Quinn Mason, Sad Hours

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But the big deal PYP concert this month happens in Salem this weekend (tomorrow, if you’re reading this on Thursday the Fourth) and twice in Portland the following weekend (May 12 and 13). You’ve already read about this collaboration between Camerata PYP and In Mulieribus, if you follow Daryl Browne’s choral column. Here’s what she had to say about it last week:

Here are just two of the ways in which this concert is so exciting. Firstly, the two works on the concert are both premieres. One is a West Coast premiere of Kareem Roustom’s Hurry to the Light in which the ancient narrative of Homer’s Odyssey is flipped from male to female. Read scholar Emily Wilson’s New Yorker piece about her new Odyssey translation which was the inspiration for Hurry to the Light. Listen to one striking movement, “Sirens,” here:

The other, a world premiere, is Because I Will Not Despair composed by Jessica Meyer and based on a set of poems by Portlander Alicia Jo Rabins. Of Rabin’s poetry, Meyer says (PYP media): “Her imagery is already visceral, so it made my job easy to set her works to music.”

The second exciting thing about this music is that these forces are together. Works for orchestra and women’s chorus are rare. “The reason that the orchestral world doesn’t nurture repertoire with women’s voices is because there aren’t many,” said conductor Anna Song in a recent email to OAW. Hooray for something new that is filling a void and for the co-commission by PYP and IM that brought Because I Will Not Despair to life.

And if you can’t make it to Salem or to St. Philip Neri Church or even to the hauntingly lovely Evans Auditorium at Lewis & Clark College–well, there’s always the livestream. Catch that May 5 right here.

Jessica Meyer, Ring Out

In Mulieribus, Cycles of Eternity

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PYP performs Beethoven’s Ninth on May 7; tickets and info available here. Camerata PYP and In Mulieribus perform Meyer and Roustom on May 5, 12, and 13; tickets and info available here, here, and here. PYP’s chamber groups perform on May 21; tickets and info available here.

Fear No Music closes its exciting “25 years of Young Composers Project” season with a concert next Monday called Dealer’s Choice, so named because the performers themselves chose the pieces on the program. First up, quite fittingly, is music by a twelve-year-old composer, Alejandro Belgique’s Dance to Another Dimension. No, we don’t mean Belgique has been composing for twelve years–he’s twelve years old. You can hear his beautiful “wait what a kid composed that” Three Somethings on YCP’s 2021 concert right here:

Superstar cellist-composer Nancy Ives will perform Seven, a pandemic-era healthcare tribute by Andrea Casarrubios, and we’ll forgive her for not playing one of her own compositions if she’ll get around to recording a solo album one of these days. Monica Ohuchi will play one of the extraordinary etudes Kenji Bunch wrote for her to show off her mad skills with–the third etude, one of the ones she dazzled everybody with at Makrokosmos III. Violinist Inés Voglar Belgique will perform a work she commissioned from Cuban composer Keyla Orozco, Tres dances caprichosas.

Keiko Araki will be joined by fellow violinist Emily Cole and two guest percussionists from Portland Taiko, Karen Tingey and Zachary Semke, to perform Semke’s Salmon Ghost Song. Finally, James Shields and company will perform Bury Me Where the Lightning Will Never Find Me by Pulitzer-winner Raven Chacon. This one is scored for violin and cello, various percussion instruments, and bass clarinet. And you know that when Shields reaches for his bass clarinet, things are about to get real.

Raven Chacon, An Anthology of Chants Operations

FNM’s “Dealer’s Choice” happens May 8 at The Old Church. Tickets and information available here.

Ordinarily we wouldn’t get all that excited about a “concert” that consists of a single scene from an opera that’s not even finished yet. But when that scene is 35-minutes of an Opera Theater Oregon production–in this case their long-gestating Nu Nah-Hup: Sacajawea’s Story–well then we do, in fact, have to get very excited indeed.

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Several years ago, OTO premiered a single scene from their Two Yosemites, and that generated enough interest (meaning money) to stage the whole thing for real; it merited no less than four stories just from ArtsWatch (read those here, here, here, and here). We’ve been following the company’s career with interest ever since.

For awhile now, we’ve been getting emails about a work in progress–every time they get another grant, or hire another badass collaborator, we get an email. And every time we have the same thought: okay but when is the damn thing actually happening?!? Well, dear reader, it’s finally happening.

Probably these two quotes will give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll see and hear if you spend May 13 and/or 14 down at Hampton Opera Center at the east end of Tillikum Crossing in Southeast Portland. The first, from the press release, tells us the what and the who:

This intercultural work in development reimagines the story of Sacajawea, the extraordinary Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone woman who was a crucial member of the historic 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, from her Agai-Dika (“Salmon Eaters”), Indigenous perspective.

The opera shares a female-forward story based on journal entries and oral histories woven through a libretto by the great-great-grandniece of Sacajawea and Agai-Dika culture bearer Rose Ann Abrahamson, and music by Native American Flutist and composer Hovia Edwards, and OTO Artistic Director Justin Ralls.

The scene will be presented alongside excerpts of music, soundscapes, and presentations of traditional Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone music, language, and culture by Rose Ann Abrahamson and also features Native American Flutist and composer Hovia Edwards with chamber orchestra. Our presented scene is based on an incident of domestic violence recorded in the original expedition journals on August 14, 1805.

This production features originally commissioned traditional deer dress, leggings, moccasins and traditional Agai-Dika cradleboard crafted by Rose Ann Abrahamson and her sister Rozina George as well as a reproduction of Sacajawea’s historic blue bead belt, made by Leela Abrahamson, Rose Ann’s daughter. Dustina Abrahamson, another daughter of Rose Ann, will design traditional hair and makeup for Marion Newman’s portrayal of their ancestor, Sacajawea.

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We are thrilled to announce an internationally renowned cast to realize this work including Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman premiering the role of Sacajawea. Joining her are baritones, Richard Zeller, who will portray Toussaint Charbonneau, and Dan Gibbs as Captain William Clark.

That’s a whole lot of who. The second quote, from Rose Ann Abrahamson herself, gives us the why:

We are telling Sacajawea’s story, her story, from an Aqai- Dika perspective from her female familial descendants and people, a woman’s story from women. This story will share tradition, history and culture of Sacajawea from the viewpoint and oral history of the women of her people.  The songs will express these aspects, and most importantly her language will be preserved through operatic songs.

Hovia Edwards, Morning Star

“Nu Nah-Hup: Sacajawea’s Story” semi-premieres May 13&14 at Hampton Opera Center. Talk-back with artists and partners, including the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, to follow Sunday’s performance. Tickets and information available here.

GTFO

The middle of the month gives you a few nice outdoorsy classical offerings. The first is from yet another opera company, Renegade Opera, who made such a weirdness of Gluck and Mozart the last couple of years (read about that here, here, and here). On May 13 and 14, they’ll be on the trails at Leach Botanical Garden in Southeast Portland and then at University of Portland up near St. Johns, performing their latest production Bird Songs of Opera. Check out how they describe themselves:

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Trade your opera glasses for binoculars at Bird Songs of Opera, an outdoor recital that reimagines iconic opera arias as the songs of Oregon birds! Stroll the trails of the beautiful Leach Botanical Garden, keeping your ears open for strains of Puccini, Mozart and Bizet and your eyes peeled for flashes of glamorous plumage.

Our cast features 6 local PNW birds/singers and they are accompanied by a strolling birder and accordionist, Maeve Stier. Performers are Erica Neufeld as the Chickadee, Joannah Ball as the Anna’s Hummingbird, Mahsheed Massarat as the Steller’s Jay, Madeline Ross as the Northern Flicker, Nick Tibbs-Toto as the Great Horned Owl and Abigail Krawson as the Mourning Dove.

The following Wednesday, May 17, Oregon Symphony musicians celebrate Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a series of six recitals at the Portland Japanese Garden up in Washington Park overlooking Downtown. All six are free with admission, which is a worthwhile way to spend a Wednesday anyways. We’re particularly excited about the koto music at 6 and the symphony’s delicious low brass quartet performance at a quarter past three featuring, among other things, music by Nintendo’s musical genius Koji Kondo.

Renegade Opera’s “Bird Songs of Opera” happens May 13 & 14, with afternoon shows at Leach Botanical Garden and evening shows at UP. Tickets and info available here. Oregon Symphony’s “Music in the Garden” happens all day May 17 at Portland Japanese Garden. Tickets and info available here.

Percussin’

Terry Longshore is a complete and utter madman. We first encountered the percussionist, composer, and Southern Oregon University professor at a concert he performed a few years ago with flutist Tessa Brinckman (their duo, Caballito Negro, played a mysterious evening of music at the magical Abbie Weisenbloom House in 2018, which you can read about here), and we’ve been fans ever since. He composes music, leads a percussion ensemble, commissions stuff, builds instruments, collaborates with animators and computer graphics software designers, and just generally kicks ass 100% of the time.

So now the man is going on tour, with a “solo intermedia percussion performance of music by a diverse body of composers integrating live performance with digital audio, video, and integrated lighting.” He calls this whatchamacallit thingamabob balance | flow. The tour starts and ends at SOU, with a preview concert this Friday (tomorrow, if you’re reading this on May the Fourth) and a homecoming May 18 & 19. In between he’ll hit Western Oregon University (in Monmouth, outside of Salem) no the 11th and Portland State University on the 12th.

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Here’s a little taste (from the tour program) of what this dude is about:

mini works 2021 was a commissioning consortium organized by New Works Project featuring three composers, each writing a very short piece (about one minute) for four small percussion instruments of the same materials – wood, stone, metal, and a tambourine. My instrument choices are as follows:

  • a small slat of purple heart wood (this much-loved piece has been in my collection since 1995 and has expressed music from Applebaum to Skin & Bones to Xenakis)
  • a 12” x 12” ceramic tile purchased at ACME Garage, a funky antique shop in Medford, Oregon
  • a small “Chanchiki” gong used in Japanese taiko – a lovely gift from Jordan Curcuruto
  • a Black Swamp TD1S SoundArt tambourine

All three mini works 2021 compositions are featured in balance | flow, and the brilliant animator Miles Inada, my colleague at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, created incredible animations for them. I have been a long-time fan of Miles’ work, and I was thrilled when he was excited to join this project! The characters Miles developed for each composition are intriguing, comical, and exhibit his darkly humorous style.

Or how about this one:

meditation for metal pipes by Emma O’Halloran was a work that I co-commissioned as part of the “Everybody Hits” project organized by Adam Groh. Written for “reverb-drenched percussion quintet,” the piece is performed on 15 just-tuned metal pipes, three per player. When the SOU Percussion Ensemble performed the piece in 2021, I fell in love with its rich sonic world and melodic beauty.

I was starting to plan the balance | flow program at that time, and had the idea to create a solo version of meditation, with four of the parts prerecorded, spatialized in the stereo field, and drenched in reverb. I then had the idea to record video of each of the four players, and to shoot those recordings in a cathedral to visually suggest the reverb present in that type of environment. I happened to be meeting with another favorite collaborator, SOU Digital Film Professor Chistopher Lucas, and described the project to him. He asked if I had ever heard of Unreal Engine and I said, “no.” Chris described this 3D computer graphics environment creation software to me, and said that Miles Inada and SOU Theatre Arts Professor of Scenic Design Sean O’Skea had been working with it. Chris said, “Sean could build you a cathedral!”

The next thing I knew the four of us were meeting and beginning to plan the creation of the version of meditation you are experiencing today, with four of me set in four different “reverb-suggestive” virtual environments: a cave, the NYC Time Square Subway Station, a factory, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland – a hat’s off to Emma. I had the pleasure of visiting St. Patrick’s this past October, and also visiting Emma while in Ireland. When I showed her some of Sean’s early renderings, she pointed to where she sang as a child in St. Patrick’s!

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This collaboration with Chris, Miles, and Sean has been a delight – each of us bringing our own areas of expertise to the project and working on it together for several months. I am thrilled with the outcome, and excited to share this new version of meditation for metal pipes with you!

Yeah, like we were saying. Madman. Best kind of percussionist, right? I’ll bet his classes are amazing too.

Caballito Negro, That Which Colors The Soul

Terry Longshore’s “balance | flow” happens May 5, 18, and 19 at SOU in Ashland; May 11 at WOU; and May 12 at PSU. Tickets and more info available here

We leave you with a concert that doesn’t happen until June–but since we probably won’t see each other again until Thursday the First, we have to tell you about this concert now, because it’s one you have to actually go attend in person, and you’ll want to plan now (to hire a babysitter or whatever).

We’re talking about Gemini Project, the percussion trio constellation in the 45th Parallel Universe, performing Michael Gordon’s Timber on June 1. There’s other stuff happening with 45|| this month (Arcturus Quintet performing Villa-Lobos and Reinecke on May the Fourth, which is tonight, if you’re reading this on May the Fourth; the whole crew playing Franz Bäckerei Schubert and Pretty Damn Quick Bach on May 25), but this is the really important one.

Why? Because it’s three of Oregon’s top ten percussionists (yes, we have a top ten; see above) standing up in a church and with all seriousness playing six pieces of wood. Two-by-fours, to be precise. Even disregarding the “spectacle” aspect of that, you’re likely in for the sort of acoustic immersion that gives you a nice natural high. Let’s let the liner notes explain:

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[Gordon’s] new work, Timber, is scored for six wooden 2x4s, each cut into different sizes, giving each one a slightly different pitch. Called a “simantra,” this percussion instrument was first devised by composer Iannis Xenakis. Far from a gimmick, the instrumentation allows Gordon to create the impression that the sound is traveling around and through the room by subtly shifting the accent of sound from one player to another. The result is a meditation on sound and rhythm, bringing the physicality, endurance and technique of percussion performance to a new level.

Slagwerk Den Haag, Timber

Gemini Project performs Michael Gordon’s “Timber” June 1 at The Old Madeleine Church. Tickets and info 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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