January is a month of coming rebirth, after the reflective end-of-year holidays of Christmas and New Years among countless others. In addition to all the usual new-year’s-resolutions (exercise more, eat better, be better at reaching out to people, brush up on foreign languages), one that many of us will have is to relax more. Many of us over-extended ourselves this year, enthused that the boredom and ambient fear of ‘20 and ‘21 gave way to overexposure–pun absolutely intended.
We all know there is so much great music going on in Oregon, so the question is: if you could only go to one or maybe two shows a month, what should they be?
For instance, the Oregon Symphony puts on tons of great shows each month. So do many other groups in town, and you don’t need me to tell you about those. This column is not a Mahler symphony or a Joyce novel where it must contain the world and then some.
Perhaps coincidentally, the shows I’ve chosen to highlight are composer showcases–I’m a composer-in-progress myself, and a grad student. Classical music education has a bias towards composers; this might be rectified with more attention for performers, conductors, instrument builders, promoters, patrons and all the other people who are just as important for the creation of music.
But with a focus and emphasis on what we frustratingly deem “new music,” we have to highlight the composers who are creating that “new music.” Outside the world of classical music, pretty much everyone (aside from cover bands) can be considered composers, writing and performing their own songs for themselves. So first up we have a major festival that, in a way, is a “new music festival,” though you won’t find anyone else calling it that.
The entire month of January is Portland Music Month, which is less of a festival and more of a citywide promotion drawing attention to our many venues and artists. The whole thing is put together by MusicOregon and MusicPortland, two organizations that have been quietly humming away in the background for a while helping local musicians with grants, workshops and advocacy.
Portland Music Month must be a massive effort, aggregating shows at pretty much every major venue with the exception of the “concert halls.” So how do you support Portland Music Month? Well, by going to the shows you normally would for the month of January, with $1 from each ticket will go to their EchoFund grant program. You can also join MusicPortland or MusicOregon, or fill out their Oregon Musicians Census form.
The breadth of non-classical genres are represented here: indie rock, singer-songwriter, alt-country, jazz, hip-hop, something for pretty much everyone except the dying breed of classical dead-ender. I personally would recommend some of our great jazz ensembles like Matt Mayall’s Sound Creation Trio on the 6th and Trio Subtonic and David Balmer on the 20th, both at the Jack London Revue.
Conveniently, there is a Spotify playlist to throw on and see what sticks out to you.
Next Monday sees the return of FearNoMusic. After a rocky start to their season (their first show with Isabel Hagen got canceled due to an all-too-predictable illness), they got back on track with their great concert on November 28th, Legacies I: The Creative Continuum (read James Bash’s review here). Their upcoming show, called Generations on the 9th, is not only the next in their Locally Sourced Sounds series–it explores the long history of their Young Composers Project with recent and not-so-recent alumni of the program.
In addition, there will be a tribute to recently-deceased Portland composer Tomáš Svoboda by Monica Ohuchi and Jeff Payne. You can read more about this titan of Portland’s classical music scene in Brett Campbell’s memorial.
For the YCP alumni, we have current board president Ryan Francis with his violin and piano elegy Sillage. Then we hear music from Rohan Srinivasan and Grace Miedziak, who are currently studying music at Juilliard and USC Thornton respectively. Srinivasan’s piece is a cello-and-piano duet for Ohuchi and Nancy Ives, and Ives gets to show off Miedziak’s virtuosic solo cello work Trout and the Hatch. Finally the show ends with a set from Rachel Jumago, who performs under the singer-songwriter pseudonym Arbielle.
There are two shows on Sunday the 15th worth catching. Both are at non-traditional classical venues, continuing the trend we’ve seen with shows in the lobby of the Armory or on a farm on Sauvie Island. It’s a great avenue for outreach, helping to expand audience engagement and “breaking the frame” of the etiquette of classical shows which can be intimidating for newcomers. I also have to wonder whether this is a trend out of necessity, with the smaller chamber music groups having trouble booking the more staid venues. Limitations breed creativity, after all.
The first is the Third Angle concert with Andy Akiho, the first of their Decibel Series at Decibel Sound and Drink in Milwaukie. These shows are more casual not just in setting but in vibe: you can eat or drink at these happy hour shows, and even have a nice quiet chat like at a jazz club. The upcoming shows in the series will feature two other brilliant percussionists in our midst, Chris Whyte and Machado Mijiga.
The second features the Resonance Choral Ensemble, part 3 of their Dirty, Stupid Music series at the Curious Comedy Club on MLK. Billing itself as an edgy political cabaret, it harkens back to the days where composers like Erik Satie spent their evenings in the dirty, stupid clubs of Paris–one of the many times where less reputable music burrowed its way into the minds and hearts of elite classical composers. Some big local names are on the roster, including Erik Hundtoft of the Portland Opera Chorus, Shohei Kobayashi who teaches and conducts the chorus at Reed College, and Renegade Opera director Madeline Ross.
Since the Third Angle show is at 4:30 and the second set of the Resonance show is at 7:30 it is possible to see both on the same night with some time in between. Additionally, the Resonance show is a fundraiser with tickets that are outside my budget as a graduate student–but $125 isn’t too bad for a seat at an intimate concert with dinner and wine.
On Saturday the 21st we are treated to an exciting opportunity to hear “classical music” that comes from a completely different tradition: South Indian Carnatic music. This is the Carnatic Composers Day at the Portland Balaji Temple off Highway 26 in Sylvan heading towards Beaverton. From 10 am to 5 pm there will be lots of time to hear some of the great music of the Carnatic tradition, which is similar but distinct from the Hindustani music of North India. There’s limited space and RSVPs are due by the 4th, so get those in now!
To end the month, I would see the Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble on the 28th at Lincoln Recital Hall. This show titled Alliance is a collaboration between PJCE and the International Association for Women in Music (IAWM) and features the work of the five winners of the latter’s Jazz Competition prize: Migiwa Miyajima, Samantha Spear, Jhoely Garay, Yu Nishiyama and Eliana Fishbeyn. Also cool to note that the president of IAWM is Christina Rusnak, a composer for the Cascadia Collective who will be doing a Q&A at the concert.
I hesitate to call this “women in jazz” thing a trend, because the term “trend” implies that it’s fleeting and cynical–but there is a recent movement towards recognizing the oft-forgotten work of women in jazz. Efforts undertaken by the incredible drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and trumpeter Nadje Noorduis have brought attention to the many talented women working in jazz music today and in the past who have been overshadowed by their more acclaimed brothers.