MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

You can hear more vocal chamber music for free Friday night at Portland’s First Presbyterian Church when the superb singers of Northwest Art Song perform duets by Bernstein, Bach, Britten and more.

Northwest Art Song does duets Friday.

If you enjoyed Matthew Andrews’s recent story about Caballito Negro‘s Portland house concert, you can catch the duo on their homeground as they join colleagues from around Oregon and beyond to perform
 songbirdsongs by John Luther Adams 

Saturday at 
Southern Oregon University Recital Hall
. The Pulitzer Prize-winning erstwhile Northwest composer’s “epic poem to wilderness” freely translates bird songs into musical miniatures for piccolos, ocarinas, and percussion.

You read the Oregon ArtsWatch’s preview by Gary Ferrington and Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review, now here’s your chance to see Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere  Tango of the White Gardenia, a tango opera about “bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art. The next performance of this collaboration between Cascadia Chamber Opera and Lincoln City Cultural Center happens Monday night at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

Beyond Classical

Kalakendra Indian music presenting organization brings one of today’s great polystylistic Indian music singers Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty and singer/harmonium player Gourab Chatterjee Hindustani Vocal Music at Portland’s First Baptist Church. Read Andrews’s ArtsWatch disquisition on Indian vocal music for a nice general intro to the various pan-Indian styles they’ve mastered, and read his preview later this week.

Not everyone who plays “classical” instruments plays only classical music, including Leonard Bernstein, who was known to jazz around on piano in NYC nightclubs. Gabriel Royal got his start as a busker on the New York City subway, accompanying his original songs with his cello. He also taught himself piano and drums, and still teaches music in New York schools. You can hear him sing and play his songs at Eugene’s Soreng Theater Friday and Portland’s Winningstad Theatre Saturday.

Gabriel Royal brings his cello and his songs to Portland and Eugene.

Wednesday’s multi-disciplinary Bricolage – of music, dance, poetry, imagery and performance art — at Portland’s Performance Works NorthWest includes mandolin master Tim Connell, drummer/all-round arts ace Tim DuRoche, and multi instrumentalist Caspar Sonnet in what promises to be an incendiary improvisational combination.

This weekend brings the sixth annual Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival back to Portland’s Parkrose High School. Expect jazz, naturally, from one of Oregon’s late, great jazz legends, but also Native American arts, music and more.

Yes, there’s another great jazz show in Portland Sunday and no, you can’t go unless you already have tickets. Angela Allen will tell you all about it as well as some other jazz concerts you can attend on ArtsWatch tomorrow.

Of course we left some good stuff out! Your job is to let our readers know what other music they might want to catch this week, and the comments section is the place to do it.

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

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