The PNW is in its element now: the beginning of fall where omnipresent overcast skies and a thin layer of rain water stratify our lives for the next five-to-six months. The Thorns FC are the first NWSL team to win three championships (congrats to them!), the Blazers are starting their season off surprisingly well, and UO are at the top of the PAC-12 conference. We may be conditioned by high school to think of sports and the arts in constant competition, but really as adults, who cares?
Also worth mentioning: the recent film Tár, a must-see for classical music fans (not to step on the toes of our colleagues at FilmWatch). With its perfect Oscar-Bait release date and its character-driven focus, it should net Cate Blanchett at least a nomination for Best Lead Actress. In other film-related news, the Resonance Ensemble debuts their short film on Damien Geter’s African-American Requiem, “Around the Requiem,” on the 17th of this month at the Alberta House.
The first concert to catch this month happens tonight at the Old Madeline Church, where 45th Parallel Universe’s Arcturus Quintet, stacked with some of the best woodwind musicians in town, plays music by four American Women: Vivian Fine, Amanda Harberg, Amy Beach and Valerie Coleman. The last two should be familiar names by now, with the previous two less known. Vivian Fine was an acclaimed composer in the dissonant-but-not-serial tradition of American composers such as Ruth Crawford Seeger, while Harberg is a living composer noted for her woodwind music.
One big piece of recent music news: the announcement of Niel DePonte’s retirement from the Oregon Ballet Theater after 32 years as their conductor and artistic director. It’s usually eyebrow-raising when a conductor steps down mid-season (such as the fiasco with our sibling to the north at the Seattle Symphony recently), but he has good reason: DePonte is stepping in as interim director of the Beaverton Symphony after the sudden passing of long-time director Travis Hatton (read Brett Campbell’s obituary here).
Accordingly, the Beaverton Symphony put together two shows with DePonte on the podium in remembrance of Hatton, with a program that includes two classical standards–Schumann’s second symphony and Saint-Saëns’ third violin concerto (performed by PSU alumnus Kunito Nishitani)–along with the often-used tribute piece, “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The first performance is this Friday at the Reser Center, the second matinee on Sunday at the Village Church.
That same night (the 4th), In Medio performs Rheinberger’s Mass in E-Flat at the Augustana Lutheran Church alongside three new commission. The commissioned composers are Colin Cossi (who happens to be one of In Medio’s founding members), along with Marjorie Halloran and Germán Barboza. In Medio enters their second season this year, with a line-up of relatively young vocalists. Jocelyn Hagen’s Hands rounds out the program, for a night full of music that pays respect to tradition while remaining contemporary alongside some themes of conflict and action in a changing world. Read more about this concert in Daryl Browne’s recent choral preview here.
The Oregon Symphony’s main concert series includes some of the shows we’re most excited for this season. This weekend is the premiere of Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane’s long-awaited The Right to Be Forgotten, alongside Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and Lera Auerbach’s Icarus. At the end of the month is a refreshing modernish set of music: Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin and La valse; Prokofiev’s first Violin Concerto, featuring concertmaster Sarah Kwak; and a personal favorite of mine, The Shadows of Time by Henri Dutilleux. And between all the usual stuff the Oregon Symphony is doing this month hides a show with local rapper Aminé, who blew up a few years ago for his hit “Caroline.”
Speaking of Carolines, Pulitzer winner Caroline Shaw returns to Portland for a concert at the Reser center with So Percussion. They will be playing music from their recent collaboration Let the Soil Play its Simple Part; I got to hear a bit of it before it was made public and it was a strange but enthralling listen (now that it’s available you can hear for yourself).
On this collaboration Shaw sings and does her usual layered sequenced vocal textures over some unfamiliar instrumentation–how often do you hear a piece for voice and steel pan? The lyrics also deal with environmental themes, with songs like “The Flood is Following Me” and “To the Sky” appropriate to the season. Catch the show on November 11 (Armistice Day).
This month brings an intriguing program by Portland Columbia Symphony, the weekend of the 11-13, including a couple premieres. The first is a viola concerto called Quasar composed for Brett Deubner, a devotee of premiering new works and concerti, composed by PCSO bassoonist and local composer (who we always love to shout out here) Nicole Buetti. The second premiere is a re-orchestrated Samarthana by Johan Hugosson, originally for viola and piano. The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (by Bernstein of course) and River Mountain Sky by Maria Grenfel round out the program.
In an interview with James Bash, Buetti had this to say about the inspiration behind Quasar:
“I thought it would be fun to compare my dad with a quasar…[i]t’s the brightest object in the universe with a black hole at its core. It draws everything into its center, then explodes with an injection jet that lights up the universe. Quasars are rare and fascinating objects. My dad was like that.”
Read the complete concert preview here.
That same weekend is a series of concerts by Cappella Romana, coinciding with the release of their newest CD (also mentioned in Browne’s article above; another recent choral roundup discusses what else CR has been up to lately.) These concerts are the long-awaited premiere of a setting of the All-Night Vigil in English by UO professor and prolific composer Robert Kyr, pushed back from May 2020 (when’s the last time I said that one?) and now doubling as album release concerts. The first performance is in Seattle, but the next two are in Portland Metro: Saturday the 12th at St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown and Sunday at 3 pm at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake O’.
One exciting festival happening this month courtesy of Friends of Chamber Music is their Dvořák Festival (read Alice Hardesty’s preview here). The main event consists of a series of concerts with the Martinů Quartet, who appear on every program in the series from the 6th-13th. Check out local big-names Hannah Penn, Hamilton Cheifetz and Kenji Bunch who appear in the roster alongside Czech pianist Karel Kosarek.
Speaking of Dvořák, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony tackles his famous New World Symphony on the 13th, coinciding with the last day of the FOCM festival. In collaboration with Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project, they also commissioned some great young composers (meaning high-school composers and not “composer who hasn’t reached fifty yet”) to assemble a complete multi-composer dance suite. In another coincidence, the previous night on the 12th the Portland Youth Philharmonic also plays Dvořák–the Symphonic Variations this time–with even more world premieres. The first is Bruce Stark’s Variations for Piano and Strings performed with Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner behind the keys. The second is Childhood Memories by Farhad Poupel, which he considers an exercise in simplicity and an evocation of nostalgia.
FearNoMusic’s own show at the end of the month (the 28th) is something artistic director Kenji Bunch has wanted to do for years: tracing back contemporary music to older chamber composers. It begins with an alumnus of their aforementioned Young Composers Project Nathan Campbell, who has since gone on to get his Masters from the San Francisco Conservatory, then proceeds to Ukrainian “spiritual minimalist” Victoria Polevá–about what we expect from a FNM show. FearNoMusic has played Campbell before: they debuted his Four Sessions back in 2007. Then we go back in time via Schnittke’s completion of Mahler’s sole chamber work, his Piano Quartet in A Minor. Then we hear Mahler’s original, then Brahms, then Clara Schumann.
This sort of cross-generational show rarely gets framed in such a way. Usually ensembles focus solely on what is annoyingly deemed “new music,” play only the classics, or bridge the gap with the occasional commission and new work sprinkled in between the seat-fillers. It’s refreshing to see something that crosses this divide in a creative way, working its way backwards through time. This end-of-the-month show is one not to miss (though really that’s true of all FearNoMusic concerts).
To finish out, I want to go through some quick hits of bigger Indie artists worth seeing this month: The Paranoyds on the 9th (with local Spoon Benders opening); Lucy Dacus on the 14th; Illuminati Hotties and Men I Trust both on the 17th; Let’s Eat Grandma on the 20th; Built to Spill on the 23rd and 25th; and Beebadoobee on the 23rd.