Portland Chamber Orchestra Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: Maybe the hoarse will learn to sing

As musicians play canary in the Covid coal mine, youth orchestras play concerti; cellos haunt The Old Church and Dante's; Gaytheist and Eight Bells get hard.

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Are you staying in or going out? Is that concert happening finally or has it been rescheduled again? Even if it happened, were you able to go? Or did you get sick all of a sudden and spend the evening – and subsequent week – in isolation?

I know, I know: we’re all pretending that it’s over, that everything is back to normal, we’re “moving on,” yadda yadda yadda. Meanwhile, musicians and other service industry professionals get to be – as Aimee Mann recently cartooned – the canaries in the coal mine. You know that metaphor, right? Back when there was still coal and miners to mine it, there was a constant danger of deadly gas filling the mine shaft and driving out breathable oxygen. Solution: carry around little birds in cages, and when they stop singing it’s because they’re dead and it’s time for you to GTFO.

Grim, right? But true nonetheless. Anyway, artists of all kinds, occupying the traditional dregsy place in the cracks and outskirts of culture, have always been the canaries. Kurt Vonnegut was in the habit of pointing this out regularly, fifty-plus years ago, the last time the U.S. lived in a sustained state of multifaceted social crisis:

Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society—just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. But it made no difference whatsoever. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists—all artists—should be treasured as alarm systems.

Case in point: you may have already heard about the outbreak at Chamber Music Northwest’s recent Imani Winds concert at Alberta Rose a couple weekends back. The Imanis had to cancel the Ashland and Eugene performances of their We Cannot Walk Alone program, and cancelled or postponed their subsequent events in Chicago and New York.

I know at least one potential audient who declined to attend the Alberta Rose concert specifically because of the venue’s Covid policy:

The Alberta Rose Theater will no longer be requiring masks for entry in alignment with the recent announcement from Oregon Governor Kate Brown. While face masks are no longer mandatory, our staff will continue to wear them and we highly encourage that you wear one as well. In addition, COVID-19 vaccine proof is no longer a condition of entry as of Sunday, March 20th.

So is this the venue’s fault? The audience’s? Governor Brown’s? The anti-masker movement’s? The truth is that it’s nobody’s fault, not really. Worse still, there’s really no solution to this particular problem, unless you work remotely in the tech industry or as a professional livestreamer or otherwise have the option of just staying home all the time (like the present author).

Everybody else is screwed. On the one hand, no shows and no income; on the other, schedule your tours and keep your fingers crossed. Rock, meet hard place. In the meantime, we persist in the realm of maybe.

Concert means together

Another case in point: I really wanted to tell you all about this cluster of concerto-based concerts happening here in the first half of May. But then, yes, the present author tested positive and spent a week in bed (still there, in fact, listening to the archived rebroadcast of Geter’s Requiem on All Classical). You can still attend a few of these concerti concerts, unless you get sick or they get cancelled or both; you’ll be able to stream most if not all of them. It won’t be the same, which is obvious beyond all telling – especially in the case of concerti, where half the fun is the soloists’ stunt performances and the other half is the glorious and irreproducible live-orchestra-in-a-hall sound.

There are/were three of these from Portland Youth Philharmonic, perhaps the most exciting orchestra in Oregon. You already “missed” one of ’em, a performance on May 8 of the third Saint-Saëns violin concerto (starring 2021 PYP Concerto Competition Winner Katie Liu) and the first symphony (“April Song”) of Youth Orchestra Commissioning Initiative composer Polina Nazaykinskaya. These PYP concerts usually show up on their YouTube channel before too long, so keep your ears open. In the meantime, here’s a conversation between PYP Musical Director David Hattner and Nazaykinskaya:

If you’d been reading this on Wednesday the 11th, you’d still have had time for the second PYP concerto concert (if you were still well, that is, and if it didn’t get rescheduled). That one featured Camerata PYP performing a symphony by the 19th-century French composer Louise Ferrenc (her third) and one of Mozart’s few minor-key concerti, the C minor K491, starring Portland Piano International Rising Star Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner (who has, in true HIP style, written his own cadenzas, like Glenn Gould used to do). Also on the bill: Mendelssohn’s haunting, Radioheadish tone poem The Hebrides. You get three chances to miss out on this one: May 11 at The Reser in Beaverton, May 12 at George Fox University’s Bauman Auditorium in Newberg, and May 15 at Vert Auditorium in Pendleton, out in the beautiful Oregon desert. Sanchez-Werner performs again in Pendleton on the 16th, then back in Portland at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church on the 17th.

The third PYP concert of May (following their open recording session on the 21st, when they’ll lay down Michael Evans’ Reunion and Carlos Chavez’s trippy second symphony, Sinfonía India), is their spring concert at Bauman on the 22nd. Only one movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is on the bill, performed by 2021 PPI/PYP Piano Concerto Runner-Up Paul Lee, but that’s pretty much all the Beethoven you really need isn’t it? Also on the program: PYP’s percussion and wind ensembles, plus the PYP Conservatory Orchestra performing the first Sibelius symphony.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony – the other most exciting orchestra in Oregon – performs a curious concerto on its Resilience and Triumph concert at The Schnitz: 2022 MYS Concerto Competition winner Abigail Kim will play the Oboe Concerto by the English composer Eugene Aynsley Goossens. Goossens is one of those composers who’s juuuust on the periphery of historical notoriety: He gave the English premiere of The Rite of Spring, succeeded Fritz Reiner as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, commissioned Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and so on. Here’s that concerto, performed by the original soloist, Eugene’s brother Leon.

Also on the MYS program: Tchaikovsky’s fatefully brasstastic fourth symphony (so many Russian composers these days!) and a new work by Authentic Voice composer Koharu Sakiyama. You can hear Sakiyama’s Suite du Cirque right here:

Finally, on the 21st and 22nd, violinist Rachel Barton Pine performs with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – having been delayed since last year’s cancelled concert. Pine and orchestra will perform the violin concerto of Erich Korngold, much better known for his iconic early Hollywood soundtracks. Also on the bill: Alexander Glazunov’s fifth symphony.

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Bag & Baggage The Vault Theater Hillsboro Oregon

Cello, I love you

A string of cellotastic shows is going down at The Old Church this month (plus one at Dante’s). Hell, you already missed one: superstar duo Marilyn de Oliveira and Trevor Fitzpatrick playing Bach, Barriere, Sollima, and Bunch last week:

The rest of the Cello Church extravaganza starts on the 24th with Hamilton Cheifetz, the PSU professor famous for his whole body approach to cello pedagogy and his penchant for breaking strings while playing Beethoven. Cheifetz, pianist Julia Lee, and clarinetist Lou DeMartino will perform trios by Nino Rota, Brahms, and Beethoven (no word yet on whether Cheifetz plans on breaking another string). Get your tickets for that here.

The next day, The Old Church’s Lunchtime Concert Series welcomes Cellotropes, a cello quartet formed by Karen Schulz Harmon, Valdine Ritchie Mishkin, Dylan Rieck, and David Eby. They’ll perform music by Ennio Morricone, Bach, a few others – and Dylan Rieck (it’s always nice to see a composer in the band, as with Rose City Brass Quintet’s Lars Campbell). More info on the Cellotropes concert right here.

That weekend, on the 27th, it’s An Evening With Takénobu, the tech-empowered duo of violinist Kathryn Koch and cellist Nick Ogawa. These two combine their instruments and their voices with loopers and other effects pedals to create their special blend of “cinematic folk.” You can get a taste of what that sounds like on their latest album, last year’s Always Leave A Note:

Okay, now back to Dante’s for Cellotronix on the 22nd, when cellist and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Skip vonKuske (Portland Cello Project) will bring his looping technologies to West Burnside’s favorite cathedral of nasty fun. Take note: if you buy a ticket to this here concert, you get to stay for Dante’s notorious Sinferno Cabaret afterwards for “free.”

“Free” in this context is a technical term only – it doesn’t cost you your money, only your soul. More info here.

Rock in a hard place

Early on in The Pandemic – about a month in, depending on how you reckon it – the salty Portland pronk trio Gaytheist released an album that seemed to encapsulate the entire year to come. How Long Have I Been On Fire? asked the question that was on everyone’s mind in 2020, with songs like “Let The Wrong One Out” and “It’s Reigning Men” and “All Choices End In Death” dissolving the brain like a sugar cube at the bottom of a mug of scalding hot coffee. This mismatched, perfectly attuned ensemble – bespectacled wailing guitarist Jason Rivera, cavemannish drummer Nickolis Parks, and old-timey weed-dealer-looking bassist Tim Hoff – spatters gore all over every venue they haunt, whether that’s the venerable Mississippi Studios or some dude’s living room. Like the legendary honey badger, they don’t fuck around and they don’t fuckin’ care.

On the 28th, Gaytheist brings its special sauce to North Portland’s World Famous Kenton Club, which Old Portlanders sometmes describe as “the place you used to go to get knifed.” It’s not quite that bad anymore, although this favorite crusty music bar hasn’t quite lost its edge: I’ve never, ever been to a show there that didn’t involve some species of drunken fisticuffs.

One listen to the new Eight Bells record Legacy of Ruin – ”a soundtrack for the end of the world”–should dispel any doubts that their mojo departed with original bassist Haley Westeiner and powerhouse drummer Rae Amitay, who anchored the trio on the band’s previous album, 2016’s crushing Landless. The core of the band remains singer-guitarist-composer Melynda Jackson, who reconfigured the group after getting attacked and injured at a performance in Atlanta while on tour with Québécois weirdos Voivod – pretty much the most metal thing to happen to any Oregon musician ever (aside from nearly dying of diverticulitis, but we’ll discuss YOB another time). Anyhow, Westeiner and Amitay were eventually replaced by Matt Solis and Brian Burke, and the group remains as metallically fierce as ever.

To celebrate the album’s February release, on the 28th of this month Eight Bells will perform with their gloomy pals Jamais Jamais and the acoustic doom of Aerial Ruin at a secret spot way out in deep Southeast Portland, past Shady-Second. The place is Azoth, named for the enigmatic Universal Medicine of Alchemy. Here’s what the band has to say about it on the Farcebook event page:

This is going to be a pretty epic party. Its Eight Bells’ record release celebration, our bassist’s birthday, and our first show with him, AND our first show since we cancelled playing with Today is the Day because the pandemic started. It will be at a favored secret spot, Azoth, and we will be with our friends in Jamais Jamais and Aerial Ruin.

Doors: 8:30

Show: 9:00

sliding scale 10 – 15 bones ( yeah I hate money too but….) Directions to azoth: look for our banner at 87th / Sandy and go thru the cedar gate at the left side of the building…. across the street from fire station / weird tavern bar thing- fbook has the wrong address listed here.

*proof of vax and/or negative within 48 hours required for entry*

Matthew Neil Andrews

Matthew Neil Andrews

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.
Matthew Neil Andrews

Matthew Neil Andrews

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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