For Portland devotees of what we annoyingly call “new music,” our many great chamber ensembles bring the most heat. All the usual suspects are here, and we’ll go through them one-by-one. For those who like that other kind of “new music,” the kind that actually scares anyone over the age of 35 and makes them wonder what happened to kids these days, you can also see the zany zoomer duo 100 Gecs this Saturday at the Crystal Ballroom playing their future classics like “[I’m the] Dumbest Girl Alive,” “I Got My Tooth Removed,” and a personal favorite of mine, “What’s That Smell?”
Those who find themselves in the quote-unquote “classical music” world have to create a tenuous balance between many audiences: the mainstay subscribers here for the classics, the new music devotees, the pops attendees, and the pretentious art critics like myself. I’m sure some ballet dancers and musicians get tired of doing The Nutcracker every single year at Christmas–unless they get lucky and get to do Swan Lake instead. On the other hand, the annual tradition brings in crowds that wouldn’t normally be at the Keller or the Newmark, helping support the other shows the ballet wants to feature.
This month bring Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s performance of another such classic Russian ballet, Stravinsky’s The Firebird. While The Firebird is still among the more popular ballets, its reach may be a bit narrower than the delightful tunes and varied numbers of The Nutcracker. Despite this, it’s still one of the best for its magical score and its choreography. This show features choreography by previous OBT collaborator Yuri Possokhov who choreographed OBT’s 2004 production of The Firebird.
Alongside that are two other works, one of which nicely balances the old and the new: Indigo by Australian choreographer Stanton Welsh. One of his more acclaimed pieces, Indigo features music by one of those oh-so-classic names Antonio Vivaldi, bringing a new vitality to the classic Baroque composer through complex and challenging choreography that details the vagaries of relationships. The other new work is a full new routine by New York-based dancer and choreographer Lauren Lovette. These shows start this weekend, running from the 7th to the 15th.
To begin the busy month of chamber music, local flutist Amelia Lukas takes her Natural Homeland: Honoring Ukraine show to the Alberta Rose theater this Thursday (read James Bash’s preview here). Lukas assembled an impressive collection of collaborators for this show as well, including clarinetist and Opera Theater Oregon director Lisa Lipton. Like many concerts this month, this is a real multimedia experience, featuring artwork by local Ukrainian painter Tatyana Ostapenko and a routine by dancer Tiffany Loney to accompany Eve Beglarian’s I will not be sad in this world. Alongside Beglarian and Ukrainian composer Ludmila Yurina on the program are two Portland residents you may recognize from Cascadia Composers Collective: Lisa Marsh and David Bernstein. A few weeks ago Lukas performed the show in Hawaii and also got to go on their daytime news show to talk about it: check out the clip below.
At 4 pm on Sunday the 16th, Chamber Music Northwest Artist-in-Residence Catalyst Quartet brings a program stacked with women composers, from old favorites like Fanny Mendelssohn and Germaine Tailleferre to contemporary giants like Joan Tower and Caroline Shaw, along with some local favorites like Angelica Negrón and Jessie Montgomery. The next day, FearNoMusic–in their usual Monday night spot on the 17th–continues to highlight alumni of their Young Composers Project (read James Bash’s review of their last show here).
This year 45th Parallel brings us a very different 4/20 show, though I think the date on this one is a coincidence: Feminine by Julius Eastman. Eastman may be less known than his contemporaries in the 70s New York avant-garde like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, but his music has endured due to its beauty and political resonance. He was unapologetically Black and gay, and also wrote a lot of masterful minimalist pieces. Director Ron Blessinger said in a blog post:
But even putting the historical significance of Eastman’s work aside, Femenine is simply great music, a one-hour meditation on beauty, spontaneity, and community…[t]he line between composer and performer is moved significantly in favor of the musician, with the result being performances that are utterly original and specific to that moment in time.
You can also catch 45||’s Pyxis Quartet performing inti figgis-vizueta, Reena Esmail, and Paul Wiancko on Thursday the 13th at The Old Madeleine Church (more info on that here, and read Angela Allen’s discussion of Esmail’s “Ragamala” quartet right here).
At the end of the month (the 27-28th to be exact), Third Angle New Music cellist Valdine Ritchie Mishkin brings another program of contemporary composers: Shaw, Missy Mazzolli, Andrew Norman, Gabriela Lena Frank and Mary Kouyoumdjian find spots in the solo cello program. When the oldest piece on the program is from 1998, you know it’ll make me and other contemporary music heads like me happy. Additionally this show features lights courtesy of CYMASPACE, a local organization that uses lighting to visualize music for deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members.
While music students at Portland State University operate on their own annual schedules of exams, papers, juries and recitals, there is one thing that touches almost everyone in some way: their annual opera production. Any opera is a monumental effort, and PSU brings together its vocal, instrumental, lighting, costume and set design expertise for their massive operas every year. It seems like the only music students who aren’t involved are those like myself who study composition and musicology.
This year brings us a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (in German!) directed by Linda Brovsky; it is also the first production with alumna Kelley Nasseif as the school’s Director of Opera. Evening performances are on Friday the 21st and Saturday 28th, with afternoon matinees at 3 pm on Sunday the 23rd and 29th.
For those who just didn’t get enough opera to fill the end of April, the Portland Opera does three performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka to end the month (evening shows on the 22nd and 28th, a matinee on the 29th). Rusalka is a tragic fairy tale opera–with mermaids and witches!–from near the end of the composer’s career. New York-based soprano Karen Vuong takes the lead role. If all that hasn’t convinced you, just think: when was the last time you heard an opera sung in Czech?
The Oregon Symphony has a busy month, starting this Saturday with The Blue Hour in Concert at The Reser. The Blue Hour is a song cycle recorded and released last year composed for Boston chamber ensemble A Far Cry and vocalist Shara Nova (also known for her singer-songwriter project My Brightest Diamond). The music is a collaboration between five composers: Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider (Negron and Shaw are getting a lot of air time in Oregon this month). It’s all united by texts from Carolyn Forché’s poem On Earth. That may be a big name dump that either means a lot to you or means nothing to you, but at the very least it’s a chance to see live one of NPR’s favorite Classical records from last year.
On Sunday the 16th there are two matinee shows of another Russian classic, Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, with local favorite narrator Pam Mahon taking the speaking roles. Plus both of these shows feature Deanna Tham on the podium, one of the Oregon Symphony’s fantastic associate conductors.
On the 22-24th, OSO Music Director David Danzmayr conducts Mahler’s underrated Fourth Symphony, one of his shorter and less bombastic works (still longer than any Mozart symphony, for the record). The Mahler show opens with Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling singing Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Osvaldo Golijov, one of Danzmayr’s favorite composers. Right after that we get a back-to-back Open Music at Alberta Rose Theatre on the 28th and three-night concert series (at The Schnitz on the 29th through May 1st) with extraordinary local percussionist Andy Akiho. The show will be an opportunity to hear Akiho on his preferred instruments, the steel pans, playing his Beneath Lighted Coffers.