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MusicWatch Monthly: Winter always turns to spring

Change in the weather, change in the sound: The Oregon music scene begins to thaw and stretch its muscles.

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It feels like this time of year is a time of retreat in Oregon. People head back inside, either too busy or too depressed to go out (remember to take your Vitamin D supplements!) The blanket of clouds and rain-spotted streets may spell winter, but we still need an outlet to get us through until May. Thankfully, winter always turns to spring–eventually. In the meantime, there are plenty of great shows this month. 

We try to contextualize the events of the month given what is happening in Oregon (or to be more specific the Portland Metro area), but this month feels different. You don’t need us to tell you about Starbucks’ unionization efforts, the death of former mayor Bud Clark at ninety, or whatever’s going on with the PPB. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about it. NFTs, the Anti-Work movement, the “great resignation,” the will-they-won’t-they of war between Ukraine and Russia that no one wants–you know, a normal day in America. 

Mike Ryerson's famous photo of Portland mayor Bud Clark.
Mike Ryerson’s famous photo of Portland mayor Bud Clark.

Things feel tense in the city. Just the other day I saw someone throw a glass bottle out their window at another driver near Powell and Cesar Chavez for no apparent reason. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen our usual passive-aggressiveness boil over in the last few weeks. All this is exhausting, and sometimes you just need something to get away from it all, something to pull you back and put things into perspective. Concerts are one of the best ways of doing that, outside of perhaps church, or an afternoon with Lucy, let’s say. 

Almost all live concerts still require proof of vaccination and mask-wearing. To my annoyance, the other day I discovered that the Oregon Symphony requires a negative test to come to its performances. Let this be a reminder to check the Covid policies for concerts you wish to attend. Thankfully, the charts and data show that the Omicron wave has just about passed, so fingers crossed we don’t get another wave. This is wave six, by the way, in case you lost count. 

February is Black History Month. Online musical instrument dealer Reverb put out this great video last year chronicling a wide breadth of Black music in American history, from Scott Joplin to Rosetta Tharpe, to Hendrix and Lauryn Hill. Of course, as a gear website they’ve gotta talk about the signature models, the guitar pedals and drum machines they used to make their groundbreaking music, but if you look past the not-so-subtle ads it’s a good overview of a hundred-plus years of history in four minutes.

February in Portland brings the annual PDX Jazz Festival (coinciding nicely with Black History Month). The program this year is impressive as always. There’s the big names like Brad Mehldau, Kurt Elling, Diane Schuur and Gary Bartz, along with some younger cats (can I say that without sounding like I’m trying too hard?) who incorporate modern R&B and hip-hop into their tunes like Robert Glasper and Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah. The latter two were some of the people I was into as a high school jazz pianist, much to the chagrin of my teachers who wanted me to play exactly like Count Basie or Duke Ellington–apparently I was naive to think jazz was about creativity and self-expression.

In between the big names are lots of local and lesser-known artists, equally worth seeing. Most people who follow the jazz scene in Portland will surely know Darrell Grant, the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, Julana Torres, aka La Colorá, and Chuck Israels. 24-year old Immanuel Wilkins is an up-and-coming saxophonist who already has a record out on Blue Note. Another progressive younger artist is Marquis Hill, who pays at the Old Church on the 21st. There are also plenty of free community concerts and discussions; I wouldn’t miss Robert Glasper’s talk at the Art Museum. I would also recommend getting tickets now, just in case things fill up quick (and you know they will).

This year February 1st also coincides with Lunar New Year, the official new year for many in eastern Asia. I had green tea, dumplings, noodle soup and pork buns, with an orange for dessert to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. Keep an eye on some of the events at the Lan Su Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden, which give regular performances on traditional instruments. If I could go to only one, it would be one of the koto performances at the Japanese Garden, such as the one from 1:15-2:15 on the 19th, during regular admission hours. 

One big name making her appearance this month is Angela Hewitt for Portland Piano on the 5th and 6th, this weekend. She may be known for her Bach interpretations, but she plays Couperin, Brahms and Messiaen (!) for the first concert. The second night is all Baroque, with Scarlatti Sonatas and the obligatory Bach, including the English Suite No. 4 and selections from the Well-Tempered Clavier

Another one of the big names coming to Portland is Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón, hosted by Third Angle. She’s been busy lately, with some big-name commissions and a couple upcoming orchestra premieres. Third Angle will play a collection of her chamber works, including a world premiere–Espacios, objetos, sonidos y tiempo–and a live set by Negrón herself. For a taste, here’s a set of her performance work, which incorporates fruit in a very musical way. The two shows are on the 10th and 11th. 

If you were missing the Portland Opera over the last few years, you’ll be happy to see their ongoing show When the Sun Comes Out. Check out Angela Allen’s review for more details and a sense of what the US premiere of Leslie Uyeda’s opera is like. The shows continue through the next two weekends, ending on the 12th, so hop on those tickets.

PSU professors Tomas Cotik and Julia Lee are celebrating Beethoven’s 252nd birthday on the 19th, with two of the composer’s Violin Sonatas–both coincidentally in A Major. The 252nd seems like a strange anniversary to celebrate, especially given how close it is to the sestercentennial (and yes, I had to look that up). But Beethoven’s 250th would’ve been December 17, 2020–right in the middle of wave three. We’re glad that Dr. Lee and Dr. Cotik are able to perform again, so better late than never I guess. 

The Oregon Symphony has a great program of folk-inspired pieces this weekend, with music by Leo Brower, Rodrigo and Dawson. These may not be the most recognizable names in classical music, but it’s worth seeing the brilliant guitarist Aniello Desiderio perform Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. If you miss that, the VSO also plays Rodrigo’s the Concierto de Aranjuez, with soloist Adam Levin. The performances include an evening show on the 26th and an afternoon show on the 27th

If you wanna get out of the city and the ‘burbs for a while, Portland Youth Philharmonic plays at George Fox University in Newberg on the 13th. The highlight of the program will be John Williams’ exciting score to Jurassic Park. If you wanna stay in the city that night, Marilyn de Oliveira and Trevor Fitzpatrick (Oregon Symphony musicians and spouses) perform at First Pres at 2 pm, including music by Portland’s local Kenji Bunch.

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Chamber Music Northwest hosts two concerts at The Old Church this month, with live-streams going up two weeks later. The first features famed pianist Jeremy Denk performing Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier on the tenth. On the 24th, Christoph Prégardien and Artistic Director Gloria Chien play German Lieder, including one of my favorites of the genre, Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe

Pianist Denise VanLeuven and baritone John Vergin perform Schubert’s Winterreise on the 18th, with appropriate timing–unless Punxsutawney Phil says winter is over. Over the last few years concerts at Reed have been sparsely attended, to put it lightly: due to Covid, at times they could only have ten audience members in Kaul Auditorium, a venue that can seat 760. This performance of Winterreise however will be in the beautiful Eliot Chapel, a secular space that looks like a place of worship scrubbed of all overt religious symbols in favor of neutral gargoyles and clover designs. 

And speaking of Kaul Auditorium, the Portland Baroque Orchestra performs in Kaul on the 12th and 13th. The program, titled “Mendelssohn’s Library,” includes the German composer’s early Violin Concerto in D minor, performed by Aisslinn Nosky. 

Closing out the month on the 27th is a classical/Americana crossover show by the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra Chamber Ensemble in collaboration with The Big North. The show includes music by Piazzolla, Mozart and Schumann, at 3 pm on the 27th

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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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