MusicWatch Weekly: American classics

American songbook standards, piano classics, opera, and more in this week's Oregon music recommendations

Every summer, The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music approaches its two-week series of concerts, films, talks and more from different angles, but the Eugene festival’s perennial subject — American pop music from the 1920s to just before the rise of rock — somehow remains inexhaustible. Wednesday’s opening sampler ingeniously takes the form of an innovation that emerged toward the end of songbook era and helped extend it: the TV variety show. Siri Vik leads a sextet of singers and Torrey Newhart directs a sextet of jazz musicians in songs by Loesser, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Edith Piaf standards, even an opera aria.

The festival’s production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls closed last weekend, but you can hear a different new production at Broadway Rose Theatre starting this weekend. And there’s more Loesser (sorry) Thursday afternoon in a concert featuring four vocalists and a dectet playing some of his greatest hits, including “Let’s Get Lost,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Believe in You,” the recently controversial “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and more, including some Guys and Dolls standards.

That night, vibes master Chuck Redd joinsVik and an ace jazz quintet to play American Songbook standards and others refracted through a jazz prism by midcentury stars like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, and Lionel Hampton. Vik returns with a quintet (including cello and violin) Friday afternoon for the major departure from the American-centric program: mid-centurystandards made famous by French chanteuse Édith Piaf.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling leads a standards-fueled jazz party and more at the Shedd.

Friday night’s jazz concert is based on a book — a famous 1970s collection of jazz arrangements of standards from musicals by Rodgers & Hart, Porter, Jerome Kern and more that inspired the career of longtime Shedd pianist Vicki Brabham. That afternoon’s talk by fellow Shedd vet Ian Whitcomb also contains a recital of his top ten 20th century songs — most from the 1910s and ‘20s, few that make most other lists of standards.

Saturday night’s jazz quartet concert features classics by George Gershwin, including pianist Ted Rosenthal’s solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and jazz versions of Gershwin tunes. Saturday afternoon boasts a community singalong, and Sunday afternoon a cabaret-style jazz party/jam led by Redd that samples songbook standards from the rest of the fest and more.

The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program put together by trumpet master Byron Stripling and performed by singers Vik and Julliette Holliday with octet. Remember that the festival also offers a host of free talks, films of the era, and more.

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice closes Saturday at Newmark Theatre, ending the company’s summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.

Thomas Cilluffo sings at Portland Art Museum.

Speaking of Portland Opera, another of its resident artists, tenor Thomas Cilluffo, sings music by by Beethoven, Finzi (selections from A Young Man’s Exhortation, Vaughan Williams (cuts from his A.E. Houseman settings, On Wenlock Edge, and Tosti Wednesday at the Portland Art Museum Whitsell Auditorium. It’s part of the company’s free, wonderfully intimate Resident Artist Series, which showcases PO’s rising young stars, each accompanied by assistant conductor Nicholas Fox.

One of Oregon’s summer music treasures, Portland Piano Summer Festival, continues through Friday at Lewis & Clark College. This year’s festival adds a new series of Kaleidoscope Lectures that “explore the world of music as it relates to science, language, and art, guided by experts in relevant fields,” including, on Wednesday, OHSU prof Larry Sherman’s fascinating “Music and the Brain,” which precedes Anthony Padilla’s recital of famous arrangements made by famous composers or performers of famous pieces by other famous composers including J.S. Bach, Aaron Copland, and Modest Mussorgsky.

On Thursday, Lewis & Clark prof and Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon talks about the relationship between words and music, before the Palatine Trio (FearNoMusic violinist Inés Voglar Belgique and cellist Nancy Ives, plus festival director Susan DeWitt Smith) plays nocturnes by longtime Oregonian Ernest Bloch, Haydn, Brahms, and Piazzolla.

On Friday, Smith trades the piano bench for the lectern in a talk about finding meaning in music, after which Andrew Brownell concludes the festival with more J.S. Bach, a Hummel sonata, and a smorgasboard of Chopin.

And speaking of piano music, Hunter Noack continues his fascinating In a Landscape series at Summer Lake’s Playa Friday and Fossil’s Wilson Ranches Retreat Tuesday.

Susan DeWitt Smith performs, talks and directs at Portland Piano International’s Summer Festival. Photo: Jacob Wade.

Next week we’ll have more wine-related classical music news, but this week’s alcohol-enhanced alfresco occasion is Villa Musica’s Sunday show at Villa Catalana Cellars near Oregon City, half an hour from downtown Portland. Along with (optional) dinner and wine, the show features an ideal soundtrack in Portland violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte in lustrous, too seldom played music (which they’ve recorded) by the great, murdered French Baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclair. We’ll have more wine-related music news next week. Then, from a more recent vintage, the excellent Portland flutist Amelia Lukas joins her childhood friend, Seattle cellist Rose Bellini, plays sinuous contemporary music by Wales native Hilary Tan (Llef — that’s no typo, that’s Welsh, for “cry from the heart”) Heitor Villa-Lobos’s ​lively Jet Whistle, and Judith Shatin’s breezy ​Gazebo Music.

Still another summer musical treat continues with Jacksonville’s annual Britt Orchestra Season, part of the Britt Music & Arts Festival. Due to wildfire smoke, these Britt Orchestra concerts have been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. There’s a Beethoven and a Ninth Symphony in Friday’s concert — but not Beethoven’s Ninth. Esteemed pianist Jonathan Biss stars in Beethoven’s first (actually second or even third, but who’s counting?) piano concerto, and concludes with Shostakovich’s surprisingly (for a work written at the end of World War II, which brought his country and the world so much devastation) lissome ninth symphony.

On Saturday, one of today’s hottest young composers, Christopher Cerrone, conducts Beethoven’s Egmont overture and his own tense 2017 composition, Will There Be Singing. ” I was inescapably shaken by the American election in 2016 and its attendant instability and acrimony,” Cerrone writes. “As I began writing a piece for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in early 2017, the world seemed to seep into my piece in a different way. That doesn’t make it an analogy, or program music—but it’s a reflection of a composer’s psyche in uncertain times.” The concert concludes with another American standard: Copland’s ever-exuberant Appalachian Spring ballet score suite. (Previously scheduled Edgar Meyer music was canceled due to the bassist/composer’s surgery.)

Finally, you can experience some more outdoor classics — this time for free! — Friday eve outside the Beaverton Library and Sunday at downtown Portland’s Director Park, where the Portland Wind Symphony (recently lauded by ArtsWatch’s Maria Choban) plays music by Haydn Wood, Count Basie, Joseph Jenkins, Percy Grainer, John Philip Sousa and more. And one of Oregon’s coolest outdoor music events, Pickathon, runs through Sunday at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley. Too many strong acts to recommend just a few — just go, or stream.

Oh, and don’t forget the University of Oregon’s Beta Percussion blast this weekend — read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Feel free to pour out more intoxicating Oregon musical recommendations in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

2 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Mitch Ritter says:

    Flying by a la the ol’ Johnny Carson rapid-fire late night pitchman…”and that’s not all! You’ll get The Shedd, Chuck Redd, Red Norvo and Vi Redd in Red Hot and Bothered if you act now…”

    BC’s got some explicatin’ to do if he wants to avoid alienating the already alienated Rufus Wainwright contingent of OreArtsWatch faithful and Babs’ well-kempt faklempt with this peachy and pulpish palaver of deep dish: “The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program…”

    “(sometimes fluffy) faves”? Pinning that to Judy or to Babs is to invite a shpritz. Leveling the charge against the aesthetics or musical taste of either diva is a shaheed’s screed! Duck and run…

    Mitch Ritter\Paradigm Shifters
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
    Media Discussion List

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