Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Monthly: Whether permitting

Festivals galore hope to postpone postponement, offering live music and merch

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As Frank Sinatra sang in “Mistletoe and Holly, “overeating, merry greetings from relatives you don’t know.” I’m sure everyone is ready to get back into the concert-going mood after a month of holidays. Unfortunately, many of the big questions we had entering 2021 are still with us. Will this new COVID variant put a damper on things again? Are we gonna run out of Greek letters and start using Hebrew or Cyrillic? Can we please get some certainty back into our lives? 

Like Matthew Andrews wrote about in the far-off time of November 2020, music is a tough industry to make any money in, unless you sell your soul to one of the million subsidiaries of Universal, Sony BMG or Warner. In that article Andrews argued for actually paying for music through Bandcamp and vinyl, but there’s another way to support artists: live shows and merch. Unlike record sales–which, outside of Bandcamp, net the artist very little money after labels, lawyers and managers take their cut–live shows and merch give a much higher profit margin for the artist.

One thing I don’t think has been commented upon enough is the faux-democratization of the music industry. The Internet may have given us the promise of true pluralism and diversity, but in reality trends converge towards the same “important” artists and albums, just like in the days when major labels held a much larger sway on the industry. Is it any wonder that /mu/, RateYourMusic, Pitchfork and Anthony Fantano just happen to listen to and enjoy the same records, with some minor differences between them? This isn’t to say they are wrong by any means: Sinner Get Ready and Promises are both stellar albums, for instance, and they do find some gems we wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. But I still wish there was a wider, more diverse conversation surrounding music. 

This is where the local-national divide comes in. Those critics and communities tend towards major releases because that’s their purview. Only a few artists from each local scene possibly get any national attention, and most of the biggest ones stick to LA, New York, Nashville and Atlanta anyways. Hip-hop has long had its local scenes, to the point where people recognize important differences between Bay Area and Los Angeles hip-hop, or artists from Houston and Memphis

With that said, January 2022 is Portland Music Month. Local non-profit MusicPortland hosts the event as a way to raise grant money for local musicians who wouldn’t usually get any (that is, musicians who don’t perform classical or opera). One dollar from every ticket will go to support MusicPortland, and with dozens of shows across 14 venues there will be plenty to go around. (You can also make a donation, of course, in lieu of attending shows.) There will be merch tables aplenty, with tees, tote bags, records, buttons and stickers to help promote your favorites around town. You can also “win shit”–gift bags, gift certificates for music shops and expensive gear–by signing up for their mailing list and promoting their cause online.

With so many artists it can be hard to sift through it all to find the good stuff. Luckily, there is a Spotify Playlist for that. Throw it on shuffle and if anything catches your ear, and get your tickets for their show. 

There are a couple shows we want to highlight–besides The Thesis (read Robert Ham’s preview here)–to give our readers a taste of what Portland Music Month is like. The venues with the most shows are Holocene, Mississippi Studios and Crystal Ballroom, so that’s who we will focus on.

Ending the month on the 27th is a trio of upbeat weirdo rock heavy-hitters at Holocene. Headliners Yuvees make noisy, upbeat post-punk, like something out of an alternate dimension where Adrian Belew had replaced David Byrne as the frontman of Talking Heads. Supporting Yuvees is the experimental pop solo act !mindparade, who plays fast and loose with genre to create something strange yet catchy, and Oahu transplants The Fourth Wall

At Mississippi, there are a slew of rock bands this month. Some shows you should look into include the indie pop duos: Tango Alpha Tango at the beginning of the month (the 8th) and Small Millions at the end (the 28th). Also check out the yacht-rock throwback The Yachtsmen on the 21st. Out of all the genres millennials could’ve revived, breezy, vapid Yacht Rock is one of the stranger choices, though given the state of, well, everything, a life of Mai Tais and surfing doesn’t sound too bad.

At the Crystal Ballroom, they are sponsoring a whole damn festival-within-a-festival: the Portland Folk Festival from the 14th-16th. We should also mention Dante’s, where we get a show by Metalachi on the 21st, which is exactly what it sounds like: metal mariachi. 

Even more festivals

Everyone knows–or at least should know–that Portland’s annual PDX Jazz Festival is in February, and tickets can sell out quickly. We’ll have more in-depth coverage of the good stuff next month, but I’d get those Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper and Christian Scott Atunde tickets before they go. 

This weekend, the Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble shows off the alumni of their Young Jazz Composers program. In true Portland fashion, this is part show, part potluck, sans shoes (Loosewig on SE Morrisson is a no-shoes household), though there is limited seating. Doors open at 6:30 on the 8th, so bring some snacks, wine and fuzzy socks and enjoy some tunes by Portland’s brightest young jazz musicians. If you wanna watch at home, there will be a Youtube live-stream

And as long as we’re looking forward, you may as well snag some tickets to some great up-coming shows at the Roseland, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Rina Sawayama, Purity Ring and the Avalanches. If those names mean anything to you, get tickets now. If not, well that’s more for us then.

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Bag & Baggage Danny and the Deep Blue Sea The Vault Theatre Hillsboro Oregon

Classical music is also back after all the holiday concerts. January brings one of the most anticipated chamber music shows of the year: Fear No Music’s seventh annual Locally Sourced Sounds. Aside from Cascadia Composers, LSS presents the most consistent opportunity to hear local composers live, though they haven’t announced who will be on the program yet. The live show is on the 24th, with the concert going up online two weeks later. 

45th Parallel Universe has two shows this month: Arcturus on the 13th and Thou Shalt Steal! on the 27th. Our friends at Friends of Chamber Music host the Pacifica Quartet on the 10th and 11th at Lincoln Hall, playing string quartets from Brahms, Prokofiev and Florence Price. And finally, Salem is treated to a show by Camerata Music on the 23rd, with piano trios by Shostakovich and Dvorak. 

There’s another great show coming up in Salem: Caroline Shaw at Willamette University. This is part of Willamette’s Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists series, which brings notable musicians to campus to work with students and give a concert. On the 2nd Shaw performs at Hudson Hall in Salem, giving a world premiere (!) along with guest artists The Delgani String Quartet, cellist Valdine Mishkin, and The Salem String Quartet.

The ExTradition Series has kept busy during the last two years with their brilliant Social distancing shows, all of which you can find on their Youtube. Their first live show comes on the 29th at Leaven Community, featuring “five works by an international, multi-generational group of women composers,” including Annea Lockwood, a New Zealander known for burning pianos. ExTradition will not be burning any pianos at this performance. 

As far as the orchestras in town, the Oregon Symphony has a full schedule this month, including Itzhak Perlman playing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto–but you don’t need me to tell you that. North of the mighty Columbia the VSO features their Young Artist Competition winners alongside Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Meanwhile, the Portland Columbia Symphony ends the month with two nights of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with local violin phenom Tomás Cotik, plus works by Fauré and Jessie Montgomery

We leave you with the unfortunate news that vocal ensemble Cappella Romana has just decided to postpone their upcoming concerts:

Due to mounting public health concerns regarding COVID-19 and the increased prevalence of the omicron variant, Cappella Romana’s January performances of A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court have been postponed.

“Our music director Alexander Lingas would be coming from the UK,” explains Mark Powell, executive director.

“And our principal soloist Stelios Kontakiotis would be flying from Greece.  With so many flights being cancelled because of the omicron surge, and the high risk of even one singer becoming infected, the Board of Directors and I made the difficult decision to reschedule this project.”

The concerts were to take place in mid-January, followed by a recording session. That session is now slated to take place in summer 2022, with a recording release to coincide with the rescheduled concerts in January 2023.

All ticket donations will be allocated to pay our professional singers, compensating them in part for what they would have earned during the project. “Given the circumstances, this is simply the right thing to do,” says Executive Director Mark Powell.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Sonic Arts and Music Production in 2019. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. In addition to composing, he is a sound engineer for chamber music group FearNoMusic and is an editor of the Portland State music journal Subito. You can find his writing at Continuousvariations.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Yet another fine article, Pan Karol (Mr. Charles), keep ’em comin’ . . .

    As for your comment, “But I still wish there was a wider, more diverse conversation surrounding music,” well, I often wish for similar diversity surrounding the near-obsessive programing of the same few “it” composers. Yes, of course, trends/styles/fads must sometimes play themselves out B4 a new batch of du jour darlins can take their turns in the ever-shifting spotlight, pravda?

    Regarding postponements/cancellations, oh piffley-piddle-snitch if I’m not still really reeling from having cancelled MMM’s 2020 festspiel due to CCC: Calamitous Covid Concerns! Now, nearly 2 years later, I might have to scotch MMM 2022 (18-20 March) thanx to the burgeoning omicron wave of woe.

    Finally, I soooo applaud vibrant orgs like Fear No Music, Third Angle, 45th Parallel Universe, Cascadia Composers & other intrepidistas that have the “cajones” to take their shows on the virtual roads more ‘n’ more traveled . . .

    1. I certainly agree, and I try to promote the opportunities to hear local composers whenever I can for that reason. Of course there is a ton of talent here and I only know a fraction of the people who are making music here and composing “classical” music. As there are great composers everywhere, and not to diminish their talents, but the local scenes of LA and New York tend to “fan out” to other places much more than local scenes do. Always happy to hear from you and other readers.

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