Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: What’s a tuba for?

In which we discuss Baroque music, marching bands, protest songs, and other acts of resistance.

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A picture of Sousa’s sousaphone section, c. 1923. From Paul Bierley’s book “The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa,” by way of Sousaphone blogger Dave Detweiler. Not pictured: March Fourth Marching Band’s Sousaphonist (because they don’t have one).
A picture of Sousa’s sousaphone section, c. 1923. From Paul Bierley’s book “The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa,” by way of Sousaphone blogger Dave Detweiler. Not pictured: March Fourth Marching Band’s Sousaphonist (because they don’t have one).

Tonight, tonight, tonight (and tomorrow, and tomorrow)

If it ain’t Baroque–wait, no, let’s go Bach–actually let’s just stop there. For many of us, “Baroque” primarily means “Johann Sebastian Bach,” which is reasonable if unfair. The other Really Big Names in Baroque music (Handel and Vivaldi) are mainly known, to semi-educated modern audiences anyways, via one particularly big hit each (the Messiah, the Four Seasons Resorts and Luxury Suites). Nevermind the excellence of those guys’ other stuff, and the acres of beauty laid down by Purcell, Telemann, Strozzi, Biber, Scarlatti, et alia–I mean unless you’re really into this stuff, the Baroque sound is the Bach sound.

Tonight (if you’re reading this on Thursday, March 2), 45th Parallel Universe founder and virtuoso violinist Greg Ewer is bringing a gaggle of early music specialists and their historical instruments to The Old Madeleine Church in Northeast Portland for an evening of Baroque music by Composers Besides Bach: a bit of Handel and Vivaldi, plus music by Anna Bon, Jean-Pierre Guignon, Antonio Caldera, and Jean-Marie Leclair. Also on the program: the first movement of Bach’s first cello suite (the famous part), in case you missed Alisa Weilerstein’s marathon run of The Six last month (read about that in Angela Allen’s write-up here).

One note on this concert before we move on: if you have never heard Baroque music performed by early music specialists on historical instruments (perhaps having only heard Glenn Gould’s magnificent-but-modern piano Goldberg Variations or Stowkowski’s lovingly anachronistic orchestral rendition of Toccata and Fugue in D minor aka the opening of Fantasia), then you’ve really been missing out. Let Ewer and his “Friends of Greg” take you away from all this Modern Mess and lull you with their antique charms.

Tickets and information for 45||’s “Treasures of the Baroque” are available here.

Also tonight (if you’re reading this on “First Thursday”): the notorious Oregon marching band March Fourth opens their own gallery exhibit at Murdoch Collections in the part of Northwest Portland affectionately known as “Trendy-Third” (actually the gallery is on 22nd but nevermind). The long-running pun-based Portland band plays their 20th anniversary show at The Crystal Ballroom this Saturday (two shows actually, including a matinee for the kiddees), and to celebrate the occasion they’ve got a “memorabilia exhibit” running at Murdoch through the eleventh:

Members of the band will be present at the March 2 celebration, and the group show at Murdoch Collections will feature photography, costumes, sculpture, multimedia, and paintings inspired by MarchFourth, including concert posters and band memorabilia spanning 20 years. Exhibited work includes black & white portraits by Andy Batt, photo journalism by Motoya Nakamura, live concert photography by Mirifoto, watercolor works by Christine Jennings, oil painting by Christie Stewart, metal sculpture by Richard Cawley, costumes and show props by members of MarchFourth, and more.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

First Thursday opening reception at Murdoch Gallery, 2219 NW Raleigh Street, runs 5:30-8:30 with a performance of the band to follow. Anniversary concerts at Crystal Ballroom on March 4th, 3:30 and 8:30. Tickets and information available here.

This weekend (again, if you’re reading this on or around Thursday the Second) the two great youth orchestras of Portland–to wit, Metropolitan Youth Symphony and Portland Youth Philharmonic–perform in Beautiful Downtown Portland. These two are well-known for balancing three important musical responsibilities: embracing the warhorses, recovering the overlooked past, and nurturing the future. So, at an MYS or PYP concert you might hear Beethoven and Mussorgsky alongside music by Amy Beach and a 17-year-old composer you’ve never heard of for the not unreasonable reason that she’s still enrolled at Portland’s Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School (meaning you haven’t heard of her yet).

Here I’m specifically referring to Margot Pullen, whose Elegy for a Yugo so moved James Bash at a recent Fear No Music concert (read about that here). MYS will premiere a new work of Pullen’s at Newmark Theatre on March 5th, alongside Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain Suite (in its West Coast Premiere) and selections from The Montgomery Variations, a 1964 piece for orchestra by Margaret Allison Bonds.

But wait! There’s more! On Saturday morning, March 4, 9:30-11 am (just after cereal and cartoons), Higdon will present an overview of her works at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall (the one in the basement, but don’t let that deter you). On Sunday morning, at the same time (just after church and coffee) and in almost the same place (Lincoln Hall room 225, where the music theory classes happen), Higdon will present a master class for FNM’s Young Composers Project.

And here’s your history lesson: Higdon’s new Suite is drawn from her 2015 opera Cold Mountain (based on the 1997 novel, not the 2003 movie); Bonds’ Variations are based on the African American Spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” and focus on the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and other acts of Jim Crow era resistance. The attentive reader will also notice that all three composers on this program happen to be women.

On March 4, over at The Schnitz, PYP will give the US premiere of English composer Ruth GippsSymphony No. 3, Op. 57, composed in 1965. Also on the program: the premiere of a new work by hornist-composer Jeff Scott (whose music, with and without Imani Winds, has so dazzled us at Chamber Music Northwests past–read about his passion for Bach and Coltrane here). And 16-year-old bassist Maggie Carter, winner of PYP’s 2022 Concerto Competition, will perform popular bassist-composer Frank Proto’s A Carmen Fantasy.

PYP performs at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday, March 4, 7:30 pm (after the March Fourth matinee). Tickets are available here. MYS performs at Newmark Theatre on Sunday, March 5, 7:30 pm. Tickets for that are available here.

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

Elsewhere in March

On Friday the 3rd and Sunday the 5th in Eugene (and again in Portland on the 7th), the Elsewhere Ensemble presents Invocation: A Prayer for Peace. The texts are from a variety of sources, including old standbys Einstein, Rumi, MLK, Jr., and so on; the music is by violinist-composer Colin Pip Dixon; the string trio (Dixon, violist Arnaud Ghillebaert, cellist Kathryn Brunhaver) is joined by a pair of star singers, baritone Kenneth Overton and soprano Camille Ortiz. These five are all, of course, staples of the Central Oregon musical ecosystem (Overton will be particularly well known to ArtsWatch readers for his performances last year of George Crumb and Damien Geter).

The Elsewhere Ensemble was founded (naturally) elsewhere–in France, to be precise–and, in a typically Eugeney bit of internationalism, relocated to Ducks Country in 2018. You can get a pretty good idea of Dixon’s whole thing with this 2015 performance of his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince in NYC:

“Invocation: A Prayer for Peace” plays at UO’s Aasen-Hull Hall March 3 & 5, and at Portland’s Old Church March 7. Tickets and info available here.

Another Eugene staple, the Delgani Quartet (a serious contender for the title of “The Oregon String Quartet”–but see below) joins up this month with German pianist Frank-Immo Zichner for a concert program celebrating two composers who were born Elsewhere but called Oregon home: Ernest “Beach Party” Bloch and the dearly departed Tomáš Svoboda (read more about the latter in Brett Campbell’s tribute here). Delgani recently released their own recording of three of Svoboda’s quartets, including the Twelfth (which Fear No Music so memorably performed in 2017) and the Tenth, which Delgani will perform on these concerts alongside Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 2 (his last work, composed in 1957 in Agate Beach). Dvořák’s own second piano quintet is also on the menu, which almost seems unnecessary but will certainly be entertaining.

Delgani String Quartet’s “Transatlantic Journey” will be in Corvallis March 3, Salem March 4, Eugene March 5 & 7, and Portland March 9. The Eugene concerts will also be presented as ticketed livestreams. Tickets and more information available here.

The Oregon Symphony is a mighty fine orchestra, but compared to the ongoing successful efforts of MYS and PYP they do still lag a bit in terms of programming new music–despite recent awesomeness like Geter’s Requiem and their various collaborations with Gabriel Kahane, Andy Akiho, etc. It’s like the old joke about “what do you call ten thousand violas at the bottom of the ocean?”–it’s a good start.

Sponsor

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

One of the symphony’s best investments in this area has been their Open Music series, which started when they hired Kahane as their Creative Chair in 2019 (read about that here) and commenced with–well, it commenced with a series of covid-canceled concerts that would have featured Caroline Shaw (but we already told that story, here and here).

But the series got back on its feet, and continues this month with pianist-composer Gabriela Montero. Montero is not just famous for her skills as a soloist (she’s recorded the music of Ginastera, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and of course Bach) and for her burgeoning compositional efforts (2015’s Latin Grammy-winning Ex Patria, 2019’s Piano Concerto No. 1 “Latin”). She’s also gained some degree of notoriety for her improvisational finesse. Here’s a sample of the latter:

Montero will be performing twice under the OSO umbrella.The first is the Open Music show on March 8, when she’ll be joined by the symphony’s Sarah Kwak, Emily Cole, Maia Hoffman, and Pansy Chang for an evening of Shostakovich, Tania León, and some of her specialty improvs. The following weekend, Montero and the symphony will perform her Babel for piano and string orchestra alongside music of Mendelssohn and Wagner on the appropriately-titled “Music of (In)tolerance” concert.

Tickets and info here for “Open Music with Gabriela Montero,” March 8 at Alberta Rose Theatre. Tickets and info here for “Music of (In)tolerance,” March 10 in Salem and March 11-13 in Portland.

Into the unknown

We promised we’d come back to that “Oregon String Quartet” question–that is, which string quartet in Oregon would have the right to call itself the Oregon quartet? Nevermind that none of them seem inclined to do so, which is surely the right decision anyways, and nevermind the futility of such thought exercises when it comes to objectifying matters of taste and opinion.

In any case, there are only so many string quartets operating in Oregon, under a particular name, with a specific membership and a robust classical repertoire. We are specifically excluding school-based quartets (of which there are all too few) and ensembles which specialize in weddings and whatnot. Thus defined there really are only three, and two of those operate as part of the 45th Parallel Universe: Mousai Remix (led by Emily Cole, whom we just encountered) and Pyxis Quartet (formerly affiliated with Third Angle New Music). Now, although Delgani and Mousai are extraordinary ensembles and have received much well-deserved love, praise, and recognition, the present author does have a different favorite.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Yes, that’s right, it’s Pyxis. We’ve adored these four–the Drucker-and-Setzer evoking violinist comrades Ron Blessinger and Greg Ewer (Ewer is the G. in F.O.G.); violist Charles Noble; cellist Marilyn de Oliveira–for years now. And for my money, the best and most interesting thing about them is that they are second only to the unconquerable Kronos Quartet for sensitive performances of the music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Which brings us to Cappella Romana’s somewhat unexpected Glass concert this month. You can read a lot more about this concert in Daryl Browne’s most recent choral preview right here; what’s intriguing to this writer is that a choir which is much better known for singing music by the Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt is centering a different minimalist.

There’s a reason, of course. Paul Barnes, the commissioning pianist for Glass’ Annunciation and a long-time collaborator with the infamous theater composer, is himself a Greek Orthodox chanter–is in fact the head chanter of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2018 Glass composed a quintet for Barnes and Brooklyn Rider (who have apparently usurped Kronos), and based some of the music on a Byzantine chant (which you can hear Barnes chanting on the excellent album of the same name). At the premiere in Lincoln (read about that here), it was good old Cappella Romana who did the chanting–and now they’re doing the whole thing again, back here in the Pacific Northwest, together with yet another Byzantine Barnes commission (Illuminations on Byzantine Chant for solo piano, composed in 2021 by Victoria Bond, also a long-time Barnes collaborator). Replacing Brooklyn Rider on this concert is, appropriately enough, a local quartet: Pyxis.

Cappella Romana, Paul Barnes, and Pyxis Quartet perform Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, and Victoria Bond on March 17 at The Madeleine Parish in Portland and March 19 at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle. Tickets and info available here.

You remember the Insane Summer of 2020, right? Amidst the whole Covid thing, and while a bunch of wildfires left the state looking like Tatooine, we saw a long series of protests erupt across the country and particularly in Portland. These protests were sparked by–well, as one Black musician we know said at the time, “the whole world is on lockdown and the police still can’t stop killing Black people.” The close timing of the Sandra Bland and George Floyd murders were too much for everyone to take, after years of this sort of thing becoming all too commonplace (Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Elijah McClain) and little-to-nothing being done about. Outrage boiled over and spilled into the streets for a year of nightly protests featuring chemical weapons and DJ LRAD.

At the time, the present author happened to live not too far from the Portland Police Bureau’s Penumbra Kelly Building on East Burnside, from which you could also see Downtown Portland across the river. To say it was a bizarre time would be a heinous understatement. Even for someone who was living in Southern California at the time of the Rodney King protests in 1992, and again in Portland in 2010 during the Occupy Movement, it was a surreal moment. Frankly I still can’t really write about it.

Here’s where Resonance Ensemble comes in. We’ve described their concerts as “part social commentary, part group therapy, and part best damn choir show in town”–and it’s true. They know exactly what they’re doing. Generally the magic trick involves gathering up and/or commissioning music that encapsulates an emotionally difficult theme, singing the hell out of it (I mean that more or less literally), and surrounding it with a variety of other art forms that spread the pain around.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased—thus do we refute entropy. Just as there are Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, so there are in fact Laws of Conservation of Pain and Joy. Neither can ever be created or destroyed. But one can be converted into the other.

Spider Robinson, Callahan’s Law.

You can read more about this concert over at Daryl Browne’s most recent choral column. It should be sufficient for now to note that the usuals will all be there: Resonance themselves, S. Renee Mitchell and Vin Shambry, plus guest conductor Shohei Kobayashi and the Fear No Music string quartet. There will be music by Margaret Bonds (remember her from the MYS concert above?) and David “Little Match Girl” Lang and Joel “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” Thompson, plus local composers Judy A. Rose, Kimberly Osberg, and Kenji Bunch. There will be paintings, and a film, and a post-concert panel discussion that will no doubt end in cathartic tears. Highly recommended, if you dare.

Resonance’s “Portland Protests” happens March 18 & 19 at Alberta House (originally a Masonic lodge, formerly Cerimon House, home to years of Resonance concerts and much else). Tickets and info available here.

We leave you for now with a Bandcamp bedtime story–just in time for Bandcamp’s next Fee Free First Friday (tomorrow, if you’re reading this on Thursday, March 2). Way back in antediluvian 2010, a Kiwi-Portlander named Ruben Nielson had left his former band (which had achieved some success in New Zealand) and come back to PDX to work as an illustrator. Eventually he got “a little antsy” and–well, here, let’s just let the man tell his own story:

I wasn’t enjoying the music anymore. My plan was to try and make some money off illustration or something. I went back to Portland by myself and the Mint Chicks broke up. We had a kind of, not really a falling out, but we had a little blow-up on-stage and I was ready to not be doing that anymore and not doing bands anymore. I went back to Portland and I was really looking forward to doing something else, doing some visual art or doing something that was a lot broader. I was working at a film production company doing illustration and stuff.

I just got a little antsy about recording again about writing music and recording again, it’s kind of an addiction, I just started missing playing a guitar. So I started doodling around and buying tape recorders and things and started experimenting. Eventually I decided that I was going to make a little psychedelic record for myself using a lot of the ideas I had wanted to try out for a long time. I’ve told this story like five times this week but I had been looking for psychedelic records with lost tunes. I wanted to find some lost record that I would be able to listen to and would really inspire me and after a while I got really specific about what I was looking for, so specific that I had this record in my head that I wanted to find. So I thought I may as well make this record.

I did this record and then loaded it up onto Band Camp and came up with a name and then went to work and started getting on with my life. The next day I checked the Band Camp to see if anyone had looked at or downloaded the track and there’d been a huge spike in plays and downloads of the songs. The Band Camp tells you where it came from and it was coming from Pitchfork and all these blogs and websites. Within a couple of days I was getting contacted by labels asking about the band; how many other songs there were and who was in the band and when we were playing next. It wasn’t a band yet, it got pretty out of control pretty quickly.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Interview with Courtney Sanders for Under The Radar, 2010.

That first track was called, for no good reason, “Ffunny Friends,” and you can still hear it on the now unanonymous Unknown Mortal Orchestra Bandcamp page:

Since then they’ve released five full-length albums (six, counting the mezzanine) and they’ve toured and generally become belovéd. This month, they celebrate their sixth album (fifth, not counting the mezzanine), appropriately (or not) titled V, which is Roman for “five” and Classical for “dum-dum-dum-DUM” and British for “oi, fuck off.” In honor of the occasion, they’re playing a string of shows across the PNW before heading out across the country: Spokane, Eugene, Portland, Boise, Seattle, and then it’s California Ho.

You can listen to tracks from V (and pre-order the physical vinyl pressing of the double LP, and apparently also a T-Shirt) right here:

Unknown Mortal Orchestra performs March 21 at MacDonald Theater in Eugene and March 22 at Portland’s belovéd Crystal Ballroom (the one with the floating floor and all the windows onto West Burnside). Tickets and info available here.

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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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