MusicWatch Weekly: Big and small

Big bands, big choirs, chamber classical, and hybrid music from Indonesia and the British Isles

Well, I just got back from hearing Third Angle play Eve Beglarian, Lee Hyla, David Lang, and a bunch of other sweet stuff down in the cozy Jack London Revue basement underneath the billiard tables. You know how sometimes when you’re watching a big band play a long set there’ll be a few players in the corps who have some classical tricks up their sleeves, and when the rest of the band takes a break one of those soloists might come downstage and rip out a crazy impressive solo, maybe a bit of Bach or Wuorinen, the sort of stuff they don’t usually get to play in jazz clubs? 3A’s Back in the Groove was exactly like that. A whole evening of it.

Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann saved the best, grooviest, flashiest music for herself, like a boss–but like a good boss, you know? The rare type of boss who approves all your sick days, keeps meetings on topic, knows how to use Excel, and not only can fix the copier but actually does. Clarinetist James Shields and saxophonist Sean Fredenburg both killed it–the latter tearing his way through Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, the former playing Reich’s New York Counterpoint along with his own fifteen-year-old undergrad backing tracks, the pair of ’em barking at each other in Lee Hyla’s gnarly, groovy, gloriously incomprehensible We Speak Etruscan–but it was Tiedemann’s graceful performance of the fiendishly difficult (but oh so melodic!) music of Jacob TV and Eve Beglarian that had us shooting coffee out our noses in shocked delight.

Anyways, you’ll hear all about the rest of this lovely show from me soon enough. Right now you’ve got new concerts to read about–big bands and small bands and sludgey bands and tribes of singers and song collectors–and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Tonight! and other reminders

It starts tonight, the seventh of November (remember, remember–this is the day they finally broke him). This evening at Goodfoot Lounge in Southeast Portland, Rattlesnake Organ Trio performs with Greaterkind, doing their funky organ trio thing. Also tonight, up at North Portland’s Kenton Club, local scifi doom metal wizards Usnea sludge it up with Ugly, At the Heart of the World, and Burials (as themselves this time–no Slayer covers). And tonight at Turn Turn Turn (where North Killingsworth meets the corpse of North Williams) it’s psych-folk madman Ben Chasny’s Six Organs of Admittance.

You can read about some of November’s other offerings in our monthly roundup, but we figured a few reminders of shows happening PDQ might be order. This weekend at The Old Church, you’ve got a pair of hour-long 45th Parallel Universe concerts: Ruth Crawford Seeger, Amy Beach, and Rebecca Clarke on the first half; Martinů, von Dohnányi, and Reza Vali on the second. Monday at TOC, Fear No Music plays Ryan Francis and David Bruce; the Mulugeta Seraw exhibit that accompanies (and lends its title to) this concert is already on display in the venue’s homey antechamber.

If you want to go big with your classical weekend, a pair of youth orchestras have their American-composer-friendly fall concerts at The Schnitz. Saturday, Portland Youth Philharmonic plays Gershwin and Beach; Sunday, Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays Tower, Beethoven, and local composer Matthew Kaminski.

If you want to go chorally big, pick one of Cappella Romana’s Oregon performances of Kastalsky’s Requiem: Saturday in Portland, Sunday in Lake Oswego, Monday out at the coast in Lincoln City. If you’d rather go small and local, head to Valentine’s for local composer Christopher “Cult of Orpheus” Corbell’s local poet collaboration Rose City Art Song Project on Friday.

Keep singing!

On Friday and Sunday, the combined forces of Portland State’s magnificent choral tribe head to their usual off-campus haunt–Goose Hollow’s First United Methodist Church–for their ninth annual Global Rhythms concert. This mob is like a larger, more studenty version of Resonance Ensemble–technically excellent and ever-curious, with a deep devotion to craft and diversity across genres and social strata, utterly appropriate for an urban university in a socially-conscious city so suffused with the sound of singing.

These award-winning choirs bounce around between contemporary classical stuff (Ēriks Ešenvalds, Eric Whitacre), classical classical stuff (Mozart, Ravel, Sibelius), and various popular musicks, with these annual Global Rhythms concerts putting a focus on both international stylistic cross-pollination and the pure joy of bringing rhythm and percussion into the often stuffy choral ecosystem.

Portland is always birthing new choirs, springing Athena-like from the city’s vast, Zeus-headed choral community. One of the newest, In Medio, performs its premiere concert Autumna this Friday at Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, with old and new classics by Renaissance composers Tomás Luis de Victoria and Orlando di Lasso, youngsters Jaakko Mäntyjärvi and Caroline Shaw, and local composer Judy Rose.

It’s not just Portland though–Senior Editor Brett Campbell has the word on two singy shows happening in Eugene this weekend:

Eugene Concert Choir’s November 8 concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall features a moving new work by New York composer Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, The Unarmed Child, that commemorates children lost to gun violence in a country whose leaders—though definitely not the vast majority of its citizens—evidently prioritize the latter, and their political power, over the former. The show also includes Benjamin Britten’s gravely beautiful 1963 tribute to the Red Cross, Cantata Misericordium (Merciful Heart) and more, with guest stars Eugene’s Delgani Quartet.

Oregon Bach Collegium‘s November 10 concert at United Lutheran Church in Eugene includes 17th-century love songs and Shakespearean sonnets, the latter intoned by Geoff Ridden from Ashland’s Classic Readings Theater Company, the former sung by soprano Emma Rose Lynn accompanied by baroque cellist Alex Abrams and harpsichordist Margret Gries

Thanks, boss! Back in Portland, at The Old Church on Friday, singer and “song collector” Peia Luzzi presents Oíche Na nAmhrán (The Night Of Song)–the sonic results of her globe-spanning research into Celtic folk music and other Old World folk. Come for the Child Ballads, stay for the waulking songs.

Big bands

If you like big bands and cannot lie, get ready for a run of local jazz orchestras doing their thing around town. Friday night at Jack London Revue, it’s The Funky Knuckles, who cheekily refer to themselves as ”a world class jazz orchestra made up of genetically enhanced cybernetic super men.” They’re only a sextet, though, so they’ll have to really work it if they want to earn that “orchestra” moniker.

Now take a peek at the considerably bigger lineup for Marilyn Keller’s Sunday show with Ezra Weiss Big Band (also at Augustana Lutheran): you’ve got Keller and Weiss, a winning pair at all times; you’ve got a sax corps that includes John Nastos and Quadraphonnes chief Mary-Sue Tobin; you’ve got Douglas Detrick and Noah Simpson lurking in trumpet ranks; and for your rhythm section you’ve got bassist Jon Lakey, guitarist Ryan Meagher, nimble madman Alan Jones on drums, and composer Darrell Grant doing his dazzling thing on the piano.

Mr. Campbell has something to say about this lot too:

Portland pianist and composer Ezra Weiss, a first-rate arranger and band leader who frequently lends his multifarious talents to progressive causes, has arranged classic gospel tunes (“How Great Thou Art,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Wade in the Water” and more) for one of Portland’s most revered singers, Marilyn Keller, backed by a dozen and a half local jazz stalwarts including John Nastos, Mary-Sue Tobin, Douglas Detrick, Stan Bock, Ryan Meagher, Darrell Grant, and Alan Jones. All proceeds benefit Immigrant Families Together, an organization that works to reunite and support immigrant families separated at the US/Mexico border.

Monday night, back at Jack London Revue, it’s a whole other big band: NoPo Big Band. Something about PDX’s mysterious fifth quadrant makes musicians all edgy–maybe it’s the rail yards, or the big statue of Paul Bunyan that presides over the Kenton neighborhood like a burly Northwest Colossus. In any case, these swingers tend to be a little rougher than your “proper” Portlanders–and when it comes to big band, that’s just how we like it.

But if you want just a little demitasse of tempestuous jazz, on Tuesday night you can go hear the inexhaustible local guitarist Mike Gamble–apparently still fresh, somehow, after Creative Music Guild’s six-day Improvisation Summit and a recent stint with Michelle Alany and The Mystics opening for Saloon Ensemble’s rowdy Nitemare B4 Xmas–playing a trio show at No Fun on Hawthorne with bassist Andrew Jones and drummer Michael Timothy Lockwood. Also on the bill: DoubleDash, with local producer/multi-instrumentalist Machado Mijiga on drums and Dario LaPoma on the keyboards.

INDspiration

It’s fairly rare for composers to put on concerts of just their own music–usually it’s pairings and collaborations, a fanfare before the Beethoven, or a commission for a specific performing group. Students do their own showcase concerts all the time, of course–we call them “recitals”–but it’s unusual for these to have any sort of thematic coherence.

One exception is Indonesian-American pianist-composer Lifia Teguh, a Portland State student of Kenji Bunch and Darrell Grant; her INDspire concert this Friday at PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall (the one in the basement, where CMNW’s New@Noon happens) features chamber music for strings, percussion, piano, and voice, combining influences from the Western classical tradition with the popular folk music of Teguh’s native Java. One piece imitates gamelan with prepared piano, and another has some audience interaction–an angklung-along, in which the audience gets to play funky handheld bamboo instruments.

Naturally we wanted to know more about Teguh’s cross-cultural music–we’re more accustomed to hearing her play Lizst and Ravel, and apparently we just missed each other this summer while she was up in Java and your intrepid music editor was down in Bali. So we slung a few questions her way.

Teguh’s answers have been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.

Oregon Arts Watch: Tell us about the music on this program, and how you combine Indonesian and western influences.

Lifia Teguh: Dendang Gado-Gado for piano & percussion (cajon, cowbells, crotales, glockenspiel) is based on an Indonesian folk tune called Gundul Gundul Pacul. It’s a mixture of different genres: folk, classical music, jazz, blues, and pop.

The three movements of A Traveler’s Journey (for string quintet, percussion, and piano) represent my journey migrating from Indonesia to the US, which turns out to be full of life lessons and is not always happy. Some parts reflect the excitement, the struggles, and how God helps me throughout the journey. “Halo!” has a dual meaning. It means “hello” in Indonesian–the pop-like tune in the beginning–and also “glory” or “majestic,” which is in the middle section. “Rescued” is slow, with an inner-reflective mood. “Fiesta” has a tango-like tune and the influence of dangdut, a famous genre in Java. It is in a minor key, and represents how triumph happens after struggles, but sometimes without us even realizing it.

Tarian Jawa features prepared piano tuned to the sound of gamelan. It was my first ever composition, world premiered in Italy for a piano festival that I attended with full scholarship because I won a national competition back home. I was in middle school at that time and my piano teachers helped me notate. Liber Dangdut (piano and string trio) was my first ever chamber music composition, written when I was an undergraduate. It’s a mixture of dangdut, Piazzolla, and film scoring: dancey, majestic, fun, sassy, and triumphant.

My music combines dangdut, gamelan, and pop–which I can hear almost everyday in public places, like on the weekends when your neighbors have parties and they close the street to have an overnight dangdut concert. When I came to the US I learned more of Latin American music and heard how some rhythms are similar. I grew up playing classical piano and keyboard at church, but I know that as much as I love the great composers I sometimes cannot fully express myself.

But the virtuosic aspects and the depth of classical music appealed to me a lot. The ending of Dendang Gado Gado was inspired by a Beethoven violin sonata I played as an undergraduate. “Rescued” was inspired by the 2nd movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, a piece so dear to me when I worked on it so hard for the PSU concerto competition–which I won last Winter.

Arts Watch: We always like to know about everyone’s first “a-ha” moment with music. Was there a recording, a performance, or other experience that first made you think “this music thing is not just some neutral thing, but something special that I want to do for real?”

Teguh: I was not sure whether I would go for a musical career; I was battling whether I was “good enough” to be a musician and decided to take a gap year, since I thought I might go for a business degree. In my senior year of high school the a-ha moment happened. I entered one of the most prestigious national piano competitions in Indonesia (Jakarta Conservatory of Music National Piano Competition), and before I played my pieces in those rounds of competitions I asked God to show me if I can enjoy this experience of performing, maybe have a career here.

I was one of only two finalists from my hometown. When they announced the winners, the third runner-up had already been accepted to Manhattan School of Music; I thought to myself, “there is no way that I have a chance of winning this.” I was the second runner up, and there was no first runner up–they had two first-place winners, one was going to Juilliard and the other to Oberlin. So I thought, “actually I might have a chance!” During my gap year I travelled a bit and realized that I missed playing the piano during those times. I know that music cannot just be a hobby, but what I enjoy doing. Here I am now.

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