CMNW Council

MusicWatch Weekly: American originals


When Chamber Music Northwest favorites the Dover Quartet, one of America’s hottest youngish string quartets scheduled a 2004 piece from one of America’s hottest young (then 27 year old) composers on their CMNW program, they might have known that San Francisco-based composer Mason Bates, who has a side career as a club DJ, would have his opera about Steve Jobs running up the road in Seattle the same week. But they couldn’t have known that that opera would take home a Grammy, as it did last weekend. You can probably discern a few electronica-style grooves, as well as Indonesian gamelan textures, in the pointillistic opening and closing of his quartet From Amber Frozen, which Bates says depicts “a rose-colored world as if viewed by an insect from the Jurassic, forever sealed in a crystal of dried amber on a tree.”

The Dover Quartet performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Tom Emerson.

They’ll also play Tchaikovsky’s tearjerking third quartet, which pays passionate tribute to a violinist friend who died young, and the final quartet by another Romantic composer who also died way too young — Franz Schubert. As Reed College music prof David Schiff writes, “All four movements are on a monumental scale. In the first two movements Schubert immediately places us in an emotional soundscape which becomes ever more intense as the music unfolds…. The final movement … launches an extended perpetual motion that seems constantly to seek out an unambiguous state of lost innocence….”
7:30 PM Wednesday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Everybody knows Rhapsody in Blue, which likely ranks in the top three most recognizable works of American classical music. From that famous bluesy opening clarinet solo to the brassy, danceable first section to the gorgeous, expansive finale, George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece pulses with immortal melodies and Jazz Age urban pep — what the composer called “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” Its only real problem is overfamiliarity — in concert, on film soundtracks and recordings, many of us have heard it so much that it’s probably best suited as an introduction to classical concerts, like the Eugene Symphony’s Valentine’s Day show.

Not everybody knows that seven years later, Gershwin also wrote a second Rhapsody (originally titled Rhapsody in Rivets) that many regard as superior to, if not quite as tuneful as, the first. The Eugene Symphony is bringing pianist Pallavi Mahidhara to join the orchestra in both. The concert also offers two more stirring American works from the 1930s. Samuel Barber wrote his gritty, dramatic first symphony in 1936 — the same year he composed that other best-known American classic, his Adagio for strings, originally part of a string quartet.

The recommended concert boasts still another rarely heard North American gem from that same year: Musica para Charlar (Music for Chattering) by the most fascinating of all Mexican composers, and one of the 20th century’s finest, Silvestre Revueltas. He composed it for a film about the railroad arriving in Baja California, the year after composing what the eminent classical music authority Joseph Horowitz called one of the greatest of all film scores, Redes. Like Gershwin’s rhapsodies, it’s a fun, colorful piece that chugs along on train-like rhythms.


CMNW Council

Why so much wonderful American music? Along with leading Oregon’s Britt Festival Orchestra, guest conductor Teddy Abrams, a rising young star destined to lead one of the world’s top orchestras someday, already conducts the Louisville Orchestra, which made its reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s by commissioning new works by American composers including Duke Ellington and Lou Harrison. Abrams, a protege of San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, is extending that wonderful legacy, and with splendid concerts like this, so is the Eugene Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

• When John Luther Adams was in college at Cal Arts, the budding young composer hiked out national forests to see the magnificent, endangered California condors. Bored with classical music education and his suburban life detached from nature, “one day I just took off, and wound up in an old farmhouse in Georgia” he remembered. “I was fascinated by the birdsong all around me. I wanted to take dictation directly from the birds.” Those experiences and sounds led Adams, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, to create his first major composition, songbirdsongs, for percussion and piccolos. Completed in 1980, its evocative nine movements don’t merely imitate the calls of meadowlarks, thrusts, doves, etc. — they translate them into sound sources that the performers assemble into unique, interactive patterns that combine into a coherent, compelling, nearly hour-long composition, not just random nature sounds. In Friday’s free concert at Portland State, they’ll be realized by the excellent Ashland-based flute and percussion duo Caballito Negro, augmented by PSU prof and Portland Percussion Group member Chris Whyte, flutist Sophia Tegart, and percussionist Paul Burdick.
Friday, Lincoln Recital Hall at PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Caballito Negro performs at Portland State University

• If you’re sated with American sounds, how about music from our one-time colonial masters, as they run back toward us after Brexiting Europe? The British equivalent of America’s Chanticleer, the esteemed vocal ensemble Voces8 similarly ranges in repertoire across centuries and styles — but with a particularly Anglophilic accent. Their Friends of Chamber Music program features English music from the Renaissance, both sacred (William Byrd) and secular (the collection of madrigals called The Triumphs of Oriana); “choral dances” by England’s greatest 20th century composer, Benjamin Britten; a couple of Irish composers from either end of the 20th century (Charles Villiers Stanford and Van Morrison); and more.
Friday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard, Portland.

Hear My Prayer – Henry Purcell from VOCES8 on Vimeo.

Rob Diggins plays Bach with PBO. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

• There’s German music onstage this weekend, and it doesn’t get any better than J.S. Bach’s, especially those concerti he wrote when he was based in the city of Cöthen and nurtured by a supportive patron, the young prince Leopold whose name will be remembered almost entirely for facilitating Bach. Portland Baroque Orchestra’s concerts present three of of Bach’s absolute masterpieces for oboe, violin, and three violins featuring star soloists Carla Moore, Gonzalo Ruiz, Rob Diggins and of course music director Monica Huggett. If you like Bach’s Brandenburgs, you’ll love these.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church, Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland

• And for more Baroque music, this time with a French twist and a female flavor, Oregon Bach Collegium performs chamber music of Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre on period instruments with soprano Brittany Rudoi.
Sunday, United Lutheran Church, Eugene


Portland Opera Puccini

45th Parallel Universe, the chamber music organization composed of Oregon Symphony musicians offers a double bill with two different string quartets: you can see either, or pay a reduced price for tickets to both shows. And both feature composers too seldom performed here. The early show features mousai REMIX performing music by African-American composers including Mozart’s contemporary Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 20th century American Florence Beatrice Price, and contemporary American Daniel Bernard Roumain. In the late show, Pyxis Quartet plays world premieres by some of Portland’s finest composers: Kenji Bunch, Nicholas Yandell, Texu Kim, and Bonnie Miksch, accompanying original poetry by Micah Fletcher. Read Damien Geter’s backgrounder for Sons of the Soil and my ArtsWatch preview of both concerts.
Friday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland

Raven Chacon

Oregon East Symphony musicians and Crow’s Shadow premiere new works by contemporary Navajo composer and artist Raven Chacon.
Saturday (with Brahms, Devienne and more), Vert Clubroom, and Sunday, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts,48004 Saint Andrew’s Road, Pendleton.

Portland Opera’s 2019 Resident Artist Series features soprano Helen Huang singing works by female composers and poets, and will also feature Chinese folk and art songs.
Tuesday, Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland



PSU NOON CONCERTS: Rose City Trio (Violinist Sarah Kwak, cellist Nancy Ives and PSU piano instructor Susan Chan perform) Thursday, 12:00pm.

LIVE FROM BEALL HALL: UO Faculty Showcase. Thursday, 7:00pm.


PPH Passing Strange

LIVE FROM BEALL HALL: UO Opera Ensemble presents “Les Contes D’hoffmann”. Friday, at 7:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm.

LIVE FROM BEALL HALL: Oregon Composers Forum Winter Concert. Tuesday, 7:30pm.

As always, thanks to Gary Ferrington for compiling this week’s streaming selections.

Lots more music happening this chilly week — tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.

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