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MusicWatch Weekly: choral collaborations


Normally many of us have to wait till August’s William Byrd Festival to hear the fine Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia in a public concert. But on Sunday afternoon at the beautiful Mount Angel Abbey outside Silverton, you can hear them sing a couple of 20th century French choral classics — Maurice Duruflé’s consoling Requiem with organ and chamber orchestra, and Francis Poulenc’s unaccompanied, exhilarating Mass in G.

Blake Applegate leads Cantores in Ecclesia.

Small ensembles and soloists from Consonare Chorale sing songs about life’s serendipitous silver linings Saturday at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny.

Oregon Chorale continues to raise its artistic ambitions in its Saturday and Sunday concerts in Hillsboro, bringing in a full professional orchestra, PCC Rock Creek Chamber Singers, and four of Portland’s best vocal soloists – soprano Lindsey Cafferky, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, tenor Les Green, tenor, and bass-baritone Damien Geter — to help perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sugary Serenade to Music and Franz Schubert’s Mass No. 5.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Another choral-orchestral collaboration, Holst’s ever-popular The Planets, highlights the Vancouver Symphony’s season-closing concert with Vancouver USA Singers at Skyview Hall Saturday and Sunday. The how also features concertos starring the three gold medalists from its Young Artists Competition, and the Holst is enhanced by  award winning real-time high definition NASA animations and stills on big screens.

Speaking of award winning young musicians, you thought May’s Mahleria outbreak was over, but Metropolitan Youth Symphony performs still another Mahler symphony (his titanic first) Sunday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Three more competition-winning soloists star in concerto movements by Dvorak, Saint-Saens, and Bozza.

Raul Gomez conducts Metropolitan Youth Symphony Sunday.

Slightly older student musicians strut their stuff at the University of Oregon’s annual Spring Concert at Eugene’s Hult Center Saturday. The award winning Chamber Choir sings music by the late, great Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, and other tunes from the Philippines, Haiti, Scotland and even the good ol’ USA. The UO Wind Ensemble, Brass Quintet, and Orchestra also play music by Aaron Copland (the rarely heard Orchestral Variations), contemporary composers, and, on his centennial, the great Leonard Bernstein’s glorious Chichester Psalms (in collaboration with the University Choir) and a suite from his Mass. 

Meanwhile, Portland State’s international award winning choral programs close their season with a cross cultural collaboration with percussionist/ composer Valerie Naranjo, of the Saturday Night Live Band, who stars in a concert featuring African and Native American music. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Hall, PSU choirs will premiere new choral versions of her music written by our PSU choral director Ethan Sperry.

Led by Valerie Naranjo, PSU’s combined choirs ignited a dance party onstage during her last Portland appearance.

Another student orchestral collaboration, this one a rare pairing with a jazz big band, distinguishes Portland State University’s Jazz Symphonica concert Monday at Lincoln Hall. The school’s Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra join forces on arrangements of music by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Portland jazz composers Jim Pepper, Ezra Weiss, John Nastos, Dan Gaynor and Douglas Detrick.

Speaking of Portland composers, if you enjoyed our tripartite Composing in the Wilderness series last summer, you can hear four of the Cascadia Composers who participated in that creative Alaskan adventure  (Jennifer Wright, Brent Lawrence, Dawn Sonntag and Christina Rusnak) talk about their experience and share recordings of the music they wrote there Monday night at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

And don’t forget about Sunday’s free concert of mostly 21st century chamber music by Emblems Wind Quintet. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

But let us return to jazz. The great Spanish born pianist and composer Chano Dominguez, best known here for his appearances with jazz stars like Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano and many others, brings his Flamenco Project to Portland5 Winningstad Theatre Sunday. This collaboration (with singer Blas Córdoba, flamenco dancer Daniel Navarro, bassist Alexis Cuadrado, and drummer Henry Cole) displays the  multiple Grammy nominee’s inventive fusions of ancient to modern flamenco music with American jazz.

Soprano Helen Huang gives a Portland Opera recital Tuesday.

After all these collaborations, let’s end with a pair of solo showcases. Actually, Portland Opera resident artist Helen Huang will have an accompanist, the company’s Chorus Master & Assistant Conductor Nicholas Fox, in her free Tuesday recital at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. But the spotlight will be on the rising young Beijing-born soprano (who grew up mostly in Virginia) in music by the great contemporary British composer Thomas Adès, Qing Yin and other Chinese composers, German late Romantics Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, and the supremely promising early 20th century French composer Lili Boulanger, who died way too young. These recitals are deservedly popular so reservations (503.241.1802 or PatronServices@portlandopera.org) are highly recommended.

Zoe Keating. Photo: Kirsten Shanley

Stellar solo cellist Zoe Keating is a longtime favorite of Oregon audiences and was even involved in the startup of what became Portland Cello Project. Since the 1980s, she’s been renowned for her pioneering DIY approach to both making music (solo electronic looping cello performances of classical and original music) and making a life in music (using the internet way before Facebook et al to build and nurture a worldwide audience). More recently, she’s been all over TED Talks and similar platforms advocating for independent musicians’ rights and dignity in an age of streaming and artistic devaluation. The last few years have brought big changes, including the birth of her child, the untimely early death of her husband, and a move to Vermont. But she seems to be on the road to recovery, and Thursday, that road leads back to Portland’s Aladdin Theatre for the latest reunion with her many Oregon fans, and possibly some new music emerging from her recent turbulent times.

More musical recommendations? By all means enlighten us in the comments section below.

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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.