MusicWatch Monthly: Too many notes

Summer gets all sweaty, with classical and jazz festivals, operas, experimental sound art, and a bit of good old-fashioned NW gonzo punk

Garden wall at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

La Finta Giardiniera
July 12-27, Newmark Theater
In The Penal Colony
July 26-August 10, Hampton Opera Center

It’s oddly appropriate that Portland Opera is closing its season with summer performances of Mozart and Philip Glass. Both composers are that rare breed: equally adept at performing their own chamber music, writing grand symphonies for orchestra, and collaborating on a variety of comic and tragic operas on themes both timeless and timely.

They have both also been accused, perhaps justly, of writing too many damn notes, and that’s part of why the best way to experience theatrically-inclined composers like Mozart and Glass is in their native habitat: the opera house. That’s really where their music lives best, in live performances rich with grand singing, engaging sets and costumes and lighting and the other “works” which give opera its name—plus the comedic and dramatic intimacy that is live theater’s specialty.

July 12-27, PO stages the lesser-known Mozart opera La Finta Giardiniera, in its second Portland production of the year (PSU Opera put on their own production earlier this year). Lindsay Ohse stars; Chas Rader-Shieber directs.

July 26-August 10, Jerry Mouawad (co-founder of Portland’s Imago Theatre) returns for another modern “pocket opera.” PO specializes in presenting these chamber operas by modern composers, thrilling Portland audiences recently with Laura Kaminsky’s As One and in 2017 with Mouawad’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field and The Little Match Girl Passion. Martin Bakari and Ryan Thorn star in Glass’s adaptation of the terrifying Kafka story.

Jazz and Blues

Waterfront Blues Festival
July 4-7, Waterfront Park

For over three decades, Portland’s iconic blues festival has been a hot, sweaty, messy, crowded, rite of passage. It’s such an undertaking they’ve got a handy little guide for navigating the four-day, four-stage fest sprawled across the west side of the river, wedged between the waves and the construction cranes.

Take a look at the line-up right here. If any of those musical legends and other hot-shit artists sound like you’d want to get into a sweltering, sunscreen-slathered groove with them and a thousand other vibing blues fans down on the sun-baked shore of the Willamette River—then pack yourself a bag full of bottled water, grab a big floppy sun hat, and get your ass down to the water.

Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.
Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.

Jazz in the Garden
Tuesdays, July 16-August 20, Lan Su Chinese Garden

Across six Tuesdays this summer, Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town Portland hosts PDX Jazz’s Summer Music Series, featuring a variety of international and local artists. On July 16th, it’s Malian supergroup BKO Quintet; on July 23, Portland vibraphonist Mike Horsfall pays tribute to Cal Tjader; on July 30, erstwhile Portland saxophonist Hailey Niswanger returns from Brooklyn with her band MAE.SUN. In August, jazz and soul singer China Moses performs on the 6th, pianist Connie Han plays on the 13th, and on the 20th Bobby Torres Ensemble commemorates Woodstock.

The Territory
July 15, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College
July 16, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University

Local superstar jazz composer and pianist Darrell Grant is having a busy year, as usual. His nine-movement suite for jazz ensemble The Territory, premiered at Chamber Music Northwest in 2013, led to the formation of the “Oregon Territory Ensemble,” which has continued performing the landscape-inspired music and recorded it with Grant in 2015.

They’ll perform The Territory here twice in July, and the line-up is pure local A-list: Florestan Trio cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, vocalist Marilyn Keller (From Maxville to Vanport), bass clarinetist Kirt Peterson, multi-instrumentalist John Nastos, trumpeter Thomas Barber, drummer Tyson Stubelek, bassist Eric Gruber, and vibraphonist Mike Horsfall.

Darrell Grant and Hamilton Cheifetz performing in Grant’s “The Territory.” Photo: Jim Leisy.

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival
July 19-21, Cathedral Park

Allow us to call your attention to some local and visiting artists that grabbed our ear when we heard they’d be playing free sets down by the water in the less-busy part of town, in Cathedral Park under the St. John’s Bridge. Funk-masters Farnell Newton and Othership Connection play Friday evening at 9. Modern jazz septet Painted Mantis plays on Saturday at 4, with David “Doctor of Bebop” Watson’s Rebirth of the Cool and Dina y los Rumberos closing the evening. Sunday, freewheeling NoPo Big Band comes out swinging at 1. You can get the whole lineup right here.

“Classical” Music

Chamber Music Northwest
Concerts weekly throughout July
Alberta Rose Theater
Kaul Auditorium, Reed College
Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University

CMNW’s 2019 summer festival started at the end of June, but the bulk of the festival runs throughout July. The festival has become a Portland favorite over the years for two reasons: the superb quality of the performing musicians, and the sheer breadth of musical programming. Retiring Artistic Director David Shifrin is a world-class clarinetist equally at home with Mozart and Messiaen, and CMNW reflects both his broad aesthetic and artistic excellence.

This year, audiences will hear long-standing festival favorites like flutist Tara Helen O’Connor (July 5), cellist Fred Sherry, and pianists Jeffrey Kahane, Daniel Schlosberg, and Gilles Vonsattel; a bevy of beautiful string quartets including the Calidore, Dover, Miró, and Rolston quartets; the exquisitely 21st-century opera company Heartbeat Opera; and plenty more you can find at cmnw.org.

Ida Kavafian, Ani Kavafian, Fred Sherry, Steven Tenenbom, and Paul Neubauer perform at Chamber Music Northwest 2018. Photo: Tom Emerson .

None of that would matter if the music was no good, but CMNW chooses the best of both new and old music. They still play plenty of the old canon, and this year’s festival features music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, the Schumanns, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky. But mixed in with all that are a ton of modern composers, with popular composers like Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland programmed right alongside thorny music by Bartók, Shostakovich, Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, and Oliver Knussen. They’re also not afraid of film music, jazz, pop, or much of anything else.

CMNW also does far more to promote living composers than most other organizations who play a lot of Bach and Beethoven. They regularly commission and premiere new works by living composers like Timo Andres, Mason Bates, Salvador Brotons, Gabriel Kahane, Libby Larsen, Yuan-Chen Li, Olli Mustonen, Shulamit Ran, R. Murray Schafer, Portland composers Kenji Bunch and David Schiff, Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, superstar clarinetist Ashley William Smith, and Jacob TV—and that’s just this year’s festival.

Some of the best concerts of the CMNW season are the Friday New@Noon series shows, which bring contemporary classical from the last 50-100 years to the school’s cozy, basement-cool Lincoln Recital Hall. Here’s where local new music fiends get their fix: the series is how CMNW manages to keep its canon cred while also programming all those living composers. And this is where those visiting and local composers shine, both in the recital hall and at the coffee Q&A sessions afterwards. These intimate little gatherings give audiences a wonderful opportunity to ask the composers about their music in person while getting caffeinated and rubbing elbows with other new music nuts.

Benjamin Verdery
July 17-18, Eliot Chapel

Guitarist and Yale professor Benjamin Verdery has premiered plenty of music by contemporary composers like Bryce Dessner, Hannah Lash, Ingram Marshall, Christopher Theofanidis, but he still has time for Bach and Jimi. Verdery will give a masterclass Wednesday July 17 at Southwest Portland’s historic Eliot Chapel, where he will perform the following evening.

Takénobu
July 19, The Old Church

Violinist Kathryn Koch and cellist Nick Ogawa had me at “live-looping cinematic folk string duo.”

ArcoPDX 5th Anniversary Concert
July 26, Holocene

I know you’re thinking “gas station” right now but “ARCO” is a pun on the Italian word for “bow” (as in violin bow), and in ordinary music notation it’s used to indicate that the string players should quit plucking around (pizz.) and go back to their usual scraping and bowing. ARCO also stands for Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra, and that’s exactly what ArcoPDX is: a small orchestra of mostly classical musicians, playing amplified chamber music.

ARCO-PDX debuted at Portland’s Mississippi Studios in 2014.

Their repertoire includes popular classical highlights like Bach, Shostakovich, Philip Glass, and Arvo Part (literally the most popular living composer in the world). They also play a whole lot of Depeche Mode songs and contemporary classical music composed by their leader: violinist, Cascadia Composer and area physician Mike Hsu.

The gimmick is, this band plays classical music in bars. It usually works, even as it leaves some classical snobs with a case of the vapors. But where else you can go headbang along to Shosty’s metalicious Eighth String Quartet? Show repeats July 27 in Beaverton, at the Satellite Pub off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, right by Uwajimaya.

Two Divas in Recital
July 28, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU

Portland State University alumni sopranos Hannah Consenz and Saori Erickson, well-loved from their appearances in various PSU Opera productions, return to Portland, master’s degrees in hand, to sing a free concert featuring Mozart, Copland, Ravel, Wolf, and more. Featuring Queer Opera Experience pianist Chuck Dillard.

Experimental

Extradition Series Summer Concert
July 27, Performance Works NW

Portland boasts a refreshingly diverse experimental-improvisational music scene, a broad spectrum that ranges from full-time knob-turning electroacoustic soundscape performance artists to professional classical musicians who simply like taking time off from Brahms to make music more devoted to space and silence than sturm and drang.

Creative Music Guild serves as an umbrella for much of the city’s best avant-garde music, and one of their series stands out for its devotion to the silence-and-soundscape end of the post-Fluxus aesthetic. The Extradition Series quarterly concerts combine compositions by contemporary artists with classic works by venerated experimentalists such as John Cage, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Alvin Lucier, and Pauline Oliveros.

Their summer concert on July 27 features music for dancers, electronics, clarinet, dobro, “resonant vessels,” stones, and voices by Lucier, Linda Austin, Angharad Davies, Eva-Maria Houben, Brian Moran, and Lo Wie. Guaranteed to be one of the weirdest, most satisfying experimental music concerts of the summer.

A bit of good old-fashioned NW gonzo punk

Kulululu and !mindparade with Salo Panto
July 3, Doug Fir Lounge
Rontoms Sunday Sessions: Nasalrod & Dirty Princess
July 7, Rontoms

To say too much would spoil it. If you want to get a glimpse of Portland’s nasty side, where intelligence and joy and rage are all just shades of rebellion, get lit on your preferred substances and go spend a night with the dirty kids.

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2 Responses.

  1. bob priest says:

    String Quartet II (“Waves”) by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer is one of the great quartets of the last 50 years, IMO. The Rolston Quartet will be performing it tomorrow night (Wed. 3 July) @ Alberta Rose as part of this year’s marvelous CMNW fest. I’ll be there, will you?

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