MusicWatch Weekly: black voices matter

Major works for voice by contemporary African American composers highlight this week's Oregon music

One of the top tenors of his generation, Philadelphia’s Lawrence Brownlee has drawn rapturous acclaim for his performances at all the world’s great opera houses, from the Met and La Scala on down, especially in the agile roles of early 19th composers. He’s also performed with some of the world’s finest orchestras. But he’s also forged a separate career performing smaller scale works, from African American spirituals to art song, and that’s the focus of this recital with pianist Myra Huang that includes a major new composition, Cycles of My Being by one of today’s most renowned new music voices, Tyshawn Sorey, with text by poet Terrance Hayes. He’ll also sing Schumann’s iconic song cycle The Poet’s Love. Read Damien Geter’s ArtsWatch preview, which includes an interview with Brownlee.

Another leading contemporary African American composer, William Averitt, is coming to Eugene from Virginia to introduce his shimmering setting of Langston Hughes poems, The Dream Keeper, which Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble performs Friday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. Some address the dream of overcoming racial injustice, which the great Harlem Renaissance poet would probably be appalled but maybe not surprised to discover persists today. “Bring me all of your dreams,” Hughes writes. “Bring me all of your Heart melodies, That I may wrap them in a blue cloudcloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.”

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb for the first half of their spring concert.

The concert also includes R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” and one of choral music rock star Eric Whitacre’s greatest hits: the inventive, dramatic Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, which draws on devices from madrigals to minimalism. EVA singers don their annual Renaissance garb to sing music for the birds, featuring madrigals and other songs that use avian imagery, including the great French composer Clément Janequin’s “The Song of the Birds” and other soaring compositions by Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Weelkes and other English composers, plus more Renaissance masters like Arcadelt and Banchieri.

Percussionist Colin Currie performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

More choral music graces the Oregon Symphony’s weekend concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, featuring a rare complete performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe augmented by the international award winning Portland State Chamber Choir, Man Choir, and Vox Femina. Although it was eclipsed a bit amid all the uproar attending the next big ballet that opened at its premiere venue, little thing called Rite of Spring, Ravel’s epic, magical 1912 ballet score is one of the 20th century’s finest. Alas, the world premiere of a new Percussion Concerto commissioned from one of today’s hottest young composers, Andy Akiho, was postponed, but the orchestra’s artist in residence, scintillating Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, will instead perform American composer John Corigliano’s colorful three-movement 2007 percussion concerto Conjurer, written for another great Scottish percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.

Chamber Music

Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, about this time last year, the orchestra performed aquatic music by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, and his music is back in Oregon Tuesday the Faure Piano Quartet’s Tuesday concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. The Friends of Chamber Music concerts also include quartets by Brahms and Mahler on Monday, and a quartet by Schumann as well as Hosokawa’s marvelously mysterious The Waters of Lethe (which like Daphnis grew out of an ancient Greek myth) on Tuesday. They’ll play quartets by their namesake, the wonderful 19th century French composer, both nights.

Spring is barely here, but we can look forward to the real sunny season at Chamber Music Amici’s Monday concert at Springfield’s Wildish Community Theater, which features the sunny Summer Trio by Oregon’s most venerated living composer, Portland legend Tomas Svoboda. The current and former University of Oregon music faculty members also play the lovely Piano and Winds Quintet that Mozart himself regarded as one of his finest creations — plus a characteristically sparkling piano trio by the fab 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc.

More Mozart — played on instruments that the composer himself would have recognized — heads the program at Benvenue Trio’s Friday concert. Read Alice Hardesty’s fascinating ArtsWatch feature about the debut of the fortepiano that’s the real star of the show at Portland’s First Baptist Church.

A rare meeting of traditional Afghan and classical Hindustani music happens Saturday at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall when the greatest living master of the double chambered lute called the rubab, Kabul native Homayoun Sakhi, joins Beaverton-based sitar master Josh Feinberg and tabla player Anubrata Chatterjee. The two nearby musical cultures share a reverence for raga, which forms the common musical meeting ground for this highly recommended performance.

Sahki and Feinberg perform Saturday night at Portland’s Old Church.

The late great Oregon writer Ursula K. Le Guin had an ear for music and an eye for culture. Her daughter Elisabeth is a renowned California early music violinist, and her parents were famous anthropologists. When she was writing her frabjous novel Always Coming Home in 1985, Le Guin added texture to her imagined future pastoral culture (set in what’s now northern California) of the Kesh by crafting poetry, maps, even recipes and other cultural expressions. Of course, the Kesh would make music too, and for that, Le Guin enlisted Todd Barton, the longtime composer at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The songs they created were included on a cassette packaged with the original edition of the novel and which remains one of my treasured possessions, even though I currently possess no technology that can play it. Le Guin was working on a reissue just before she died earlier this year, and this Friday, Elisabeth and Caroline Le Guin, Barton, Portland ambient band Visible Cloaks, acclaimed Portland filmmaker Vanessa Renwick and others celebrate Music and Poetry of the Kesh at Portland’s Leaven Community Center.

Jazz and More

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and you can show your appreciation for a pair of summer Portland jazz institutions at fundraising concerts for Cathedral Park Jazz Festival (Thursday at Jack London Revue) and Montavilla Jazz Festival (Sunday at Vino Veritas).

Omara Portuondo performs Wednesday in Portland.

We started with a big voice, and let’s end with a couple more. Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuondo sings romantic boleros and more Cuban music Wednesday at Portland’s Revolution Hall. Freddy Mercury. No, the late great Queen frontman isn’t returning from the dead, but Portland singer Courtney Freed is celebrating his music in her one woman show Don’t Stop Me Now – The Freddie Mercury Experience, which plays Wednesday through Monday at Portland’s CoHo Theater. Fellow Portland musical theater veterans Isaac Lamb (director) Reece Marshburn (arranger) and music director David Saffert join her Mercurial resurrection.

Got more musical recommendations for this windy week? Please note them in the comments section below.

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Brett Campbell has been classical music editor at Willamette Week since 2008, music columnist for Eugene Weekly since 1996, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal since 2000. He is a frequent contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities and has also written for The Oregonian, 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. He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) 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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