Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: ‘The score is not the sound,’ starring Portland Music Month, Camerata PYP, Jimmie Herrod & friends, Locally Sourced Sounds with Fear No Music, Alex Ross & 45th Parallel Universe, Sarah Tiedemann & Third Angle

The new year takes flight with a festival of Portland bands, a local pop star, and a bevy of chittering contemporary classical music.

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Brian Ferneyhough's "Unity Capsule for solo flute" (1976).
Brian Ferneyhough’s “Unity Capsule for solo flute” (1976).

Happy New Year, dear reader! We’re looking at only seven events today: a festival and two youth orchestra concerts, all happening PDQ; a trilogy of super-special new music concerts near the end of the month; plus a little something else. Let’s take off right away, shall we?

“The map is not the territory”

The meaning of this old chestnut is simply that if the map were as detailed as the territory, it would be the territory, and hence lose its value as a map. A map is necessarily a reduction, a fiction, a simulacrum. At the same time, a map can become a kind of territory unto itself, a matrix, a playground, a virtual heaven, a cloister, a sanctuary.

Consider the Portland band scene, well-represented by the vastness of festivals like Portland Music Month (which starts this week–last night, actually, if you’re reading this on Thursday, January 4). Check out that lineup, which you can organize either by date or by genre: it’s characteristically diverse, sprawling even. Portland is just like that, in a way that makes larger cities jealous. Everyone’s in a band; it’s a running joke at this point. Your friend is in a band, you’re in a band, your friend’s friends are in a band that some of your friends used to play in before they started their own band with some friends of your other friend’s other friends. Dude you sit next to at work has a band. Your boss is in a band. Your teachers are in a band. The bartender at your favorite bar is in a band with the barista at your favorite coffee shop.

Your favorite budtender, the one who’s been privately cultivating Acapulco Gold but won’t sell you any, has been playing theremin in that band, but they’ve been thinking about switching over to musical saw. They’ve been thinking about starting their own band, with other musical saw players. Get somebody’s sister to play drums and sing, call it The Carpenters Union Local 1503, record an album at Hallowed Halls, do a live spot on the Banana Stand, get featured in Willamette Week as the Best New Band of 2024, go on tour with Roselit Bone and Federale. Break up. Sell the saws. Reprogram the old Casio that’s been mouldering in the basement. Join six other bands.

While you were reading this phantasmagorical little intro, 2.3 new bands were formed in Portland, made up of members from seven other bands that may or may not have gotten around to breaking up, plus a few folks who just moved here from Seattle or Austin or Omaha or Senegal, plus some grizzled old hipster who’s lived here since the 1890s and will happily regale you with tales of Ye Olden Days at KBOO over hand-rolled cigarettes and a flask of bathtub gin. Picture all of this happening on a smoking patio somewhere, or out on the street or the parking lot or just tucked into the alley out behind the venue, all while your friend’s band is playing their set inside, and you’re missing it, but it doesn’t matter that much because you can still kind of hear them and they’re playing a house show next week anyways.

It’s like this across all genres. Jazz is more overtly polyamorous than rock/punk/metal/whatever, because everyone just plays with everyone else and calls it good. Barely even need a name. Just count the members and put someone’s name on the front.

Classical (contemporary or otherwise) is much the same, with fancier clothes and more grant money and somewhat better access to churches and wineries and academic auditoria. In this setting alone can you simply call your band “The Oregon Symphony” or “Portland Opera” and change out literally every single member, executive staff and all, and then keep going for another 100 years, Ship of Theseus style. Classical organizations swap artistic directors like a ‘70s key party.

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It was always this way, in saecula saeculorum, and in the post-Portlandia era the city imports new musicians and composers, sometimes even whole bands, from elsewhere, every day, now more than ever. Probably that happens in Eugene and Ashland and Bend and Corvallis too, but they didn’t have their own TV show to tell everyone about it.

Alive in the super(un)known

This Friday, January 5, you can hear a 100-year-old band playing music that is almost entirely newer than itself, a true rarity in the classical realm. Camerata PYP is Portland Youth Philharmonic’s chamber orchestra, and they’re usually the cutting edge of that world: it seems like they’re always playing Oregon School composers like Ernst Bloch, Tomáš Svoboda, and Kenji Bunch. Just last year they partnered up with In Mulieribus to perform music by Kareem Roustom and Jessica Meyer (read all about that right here).

On this month’s winter concert Sound Garden, Camerata PYP performs Svoboda‘s Folk Concertino for Seven Instruments (a piece they recorded on PYP’s excellent Svoboda: Premiere Recordings album) alongside music by Martinů (his Nonet), Vivaldi (“Winter” from The Four Seasons, naturally, featuring violinist Derek Choi), and Tchaikovsky (Pezzo Capriccioso, with cellist Sarah Lee).

They’ll also premiere a whopping four new compositions, three of them American: House Carpenter by Minnesotan Randy Bauer, Iranian-Canadian-Californian Kamayar Mohajer‘s Amoroso for String Orchestra, Australian David W. Pyke’s Desert Suite, and Serenade for String Orchestra by another Californian, Bruce Stark. PYP’s artistic director David Hattner once said, “if American orchestras don’t play music by American composers, no one will.” Clearly he still means it, although we do still long for their next few albums to have titles like Kenji Bunch: Premiere Recordings and Nancy Ives: Premiere Recordings and–well, you get the picture.

The only way PYP’s sibling rival Metropolitan Youth Orchestra could top all that is by getting some local superstar singer-composer to perform a whole evening of original songs with them. Aha! Here comes Jimmie Herrod, superstar singer-composer, famous for his stints on America’s Got Talent and with Pink Martini.

Here’s what MYS has to say about that January 9 concert, endearingly titled Just Jimmie:

This concert will premiere orchestral arrangements of original songs by Mr. Herrod, including “Are You Lonely, Beautiful,” “I Love You,” “I Want To Run,” “Mouche,” and “Willow Bed.” While these pieces were originally written for piano and voice, student composers from The Authentic Voice student commissioning series will work with Jimmie Herrod to create orchestral arrangements. MYS Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Raúl Gómez-Rojas will accompany Jimmie as he sings his songs, now expanded to a full orchestral palette.

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MYS will also perform music by Tomás Bretón, Luís de Freitas Branco, and–here he comes again–Kenji Bunch. PYP premiered his she flies with her own wings in 2022, and now it’s in the MYS catalog too. Try to keep up, Oregon Symphony!

Listen here

Last week, we had this to say about Fear No Music’s Locally Sourced Sounds series:

FNM’s Locally Sourced Sounds Series is the beating heart of that sweet spot, the anahata of Oregon chamber music, a whole concert of composers with roots in the Pacific Northwest, many of them alumni of FNM’s Young Composers Project (read more about YCP in Brett Campbell’s most recent profile right here). FNM’s Legacies concert this past March put one of their YCP alums, Ian Guthrie, center stage and surrounded by Angelica Negrón and (gasp) Beethoven. You can read about that one in (James) Bash’s review right here.

The importance of all this can’t be overstated: They train young composers, give them workshops and performance opportunities, then later bring them back from wherever they’ve run off to and put their music on concerts alongside other Oregon composers. Literally nobody else in Oregon does that. Tell me I’m wrong.

You can read Mr. Bash’s review of last year’s concert right here; you can read Cascadia Composer Jay Derderian’s review of the first one (featuring music by David Schiff, Tomáš Svoboda, Michael Johanson, and Bonnie Miksch) over at the Oregon ArtsWatch archive right here. Locally Sourced Sounds IX (LSSIX) is on the usual FNM Monday, January 22, and as with this season’s other concerts it will be preceded by a De-Mystifying New Music lecture/performance/continental breakfast on Sunday morning, January 21, in Reed College’s Eliot Chapel. Both are, like all FNM shindigs, “donation-based.” RSVP here and here.

LSSIX’s lineup includes Skye Neal (a thirteen-year-old Portland composer who already has her own website), Kirsten Volness, Rachel Modlin, Kimberly Osberg, and Reed College professor Bora Yoon (it’s unclear whether Yoon will have her famous megaphone with her). You may remember Volness from last year’s Makrokomos IX, or our interview with her in 2021 discussing Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Wonder, the wonders of the recording process, and her album River Rising:

Probably the best thing about Alex Ross’ magnificent, much-loved, much-loathed, much-discussed 2007 book The Rest Is Noise is how it can function as a standalone textbook. Incomplete, sure. Biased, no doubt. But as a primer of 20th-century classical music–just a place to start, to get your bearings before diving in all the way–well, it pretty much does what it says on the label. The present author (Andrews, not Ross) gave it a thorough readthrough as a much-needed refresher before embarking on an attempt at a master’s degree in music composition in 2016, and found it did a good enough job of waking up the little grey cells and getting them roadworthy.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

Check out the website for the book right here; we’d like to draw your attention to a link there that says “click here for fifteen pages of audio samples.” This is what I’m talking about. Will it stand in for an actual music education? No, of course not. But yeah, if your exposure to classical music stops with Debussy, it is a decent way to catch up. And over the years, Ross has produced a massive amount of writing about all kinds of contemporary music, publishing essays in The New Yorker (watch out for that paywall, or just buy the next book, Listen To This) some about 20th-century music, some about older stuff, and plenty about Björk and Radiohead and Gabby Frank and Kevin Puts and Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels and so on. His most recent book covers the minefield surrounding the notorious Richard Wagner.

The man himself (Ross, not Wagner) is coming to Portland this month, on Friday the 26th, for an intriguing show at The Reser with 45th Parallel Universe. Here’s what 45|| has to say about it:

Acclaimed author and music writer Alex Ross joins the virtuosos of 45th Parallel for an evening of words and music, a unique concert experience that will entertain, edify, enlighten, and exhilarate! Alex will read from his books and essays, providing compelling context to the music that 45th Parallel then performs. This is a co-production with the Patricia Reser Center, and will be recorded for broadcast on All Classical Portland.

The whole 45|| crew will be on board for this one, performing music by Wagner, Ligeti, Copland, John Luther Adams, Florence Price, and a few Radiohead songs arranged by Oregon Symphony principal percussionist Sergio Carreno. Bora Yoon will join the Universe on vocals (still no word on the megaphone).

It’s a good thing Third Angle New Music artistic director Sarah Tiedemann scheduled two performances, January 25 & 26 at New Expressive Works, of her solo concert Atmospheres–there’s sure to be a ton of overlap in the audiences for her show and the Alex Ross one. Listeners who want to have their cake and eat it too will head to Beaverton on the 25th and hit Southeast Belmont on the 26th.

To be perfectly blunt–and, yes, perhaps a bit biased–if we did have to choose between them we’d absolutely be at Tiedemann’s concert. Even if it was just Tiedemann doing her usual thing, that’d be good enough: she’s a tremendous flutist with terrific chops and remarkably interesting taste. The last time we heard her play in public was at Jack London Revue (sheesh, that was over four years ago now, what the hell happened?)–Eve Beglarian, Jacob TV, that sort of thing. Killer stuff.

Here’s how 3A describes this one:

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Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

3A’s Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann presents a night in the sky in this otherworldly multi-sensory display of solo flute, wind synth, video, and electronics. The program centers around Keiko Devaux’s transcendent Hōrai, the breathing of ancient souls, and also features several new works by local composers.

Gasp! Local composers! How ever will she sell tickets if there is no Beethoven on the program? Here’s the lineup, with their points of origin listed in brackets as if they were coffee beans:

You’ll hear more about this one soon enough, dear reader. For now all you have to do is check your calendar and figure out which night you want to take off work.

Mad about Mr. Herrod

We leave you with a second January Jimmie show: The PCSO Spectacular at The Reser on January 27. The Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra is another Oregon orchestra that bothers to perform music by Oregon composers (Nicole Buetti, Cascadia co-founder David Bernstein), so it’s no surprise to see them doing a whole show with Mr. Herrod. There will be a few surprises on the program–it’s kind of a pops show, this one, with Herrod’s “Young” and Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” and music from Candide and Star Wars listed as highlights, and the rest left to the whimsical winds of fate. Guest artist Bloco Alegria, Oregon’s delightful street samba band, may or may not be joining in for “Mad About Me” aka “That Goddamned Cantina Band Song”–that would be grand, wouldn’t it?

Ahem. Anyways. Here’s two real songs to help you get that one out of your head:

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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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3 Responses

  1. Never mind the bollocks, here’s Brian Ferneyhough!
    Sorry, Matt, BF’s score perched atop your mighty fine article reminded me of the sweat-drenched performance I struggled through of said ditty in Venice 40 years ago this month by the staggeringly gifted Pierre-Yves Artaud.
    Also, I heard tell of another BF concert long ago that unfolded thusly:
    A – rivetingly intense rendering of an insanely difficult BF ensemble work,
    B – rousing standing O for the performers,
    C – sustained chorus of loud booing when BF was signaled to stand duh eff up & take a curtain call.
    So, what to make of this story? I have some thoughts. Do you?

Kalakendra Indian Classical Instrumental Music First Congregational Church Portland Oregon
Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon
Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon
Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Portland Baroque Orchestra Harmony of Nations Concert First Baptist Church Kaul Auditorium Reed College Portland Oregon
Newport Visual and Performing Arts Newport Oregon Coast
Kalakendra Indian Classical Instrumental Music First Congregational Church Portland Oregon
Triangle Productions Perfect Arrangement Portland Oregon
NW Dance Project Moving Stories Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Oregon Repertory Singers Finding Light 50th Season Portland Oregon
Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon
Imago Theatre Carol Triffle Mission Gibbons Portland Oregon
Maryhill Museum of Art Goldendale Washington
Portland State University College of the Arts
Bonnie Bronson 2024 Fellow Wendy Red Star Reed College Reception Kaul Auditorium Foyer Portland Oregon
PassinArt Theatre and Portland Playhouse present Yohen Brunish Theatre Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
High Desert Museum Sasquatch Central Oregon
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