Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

MusicWatch Weekly: choral confluence


Vibrant voices lead this week’s Oregon music calendar, beginning with one of America’s oldest and most revered choral ensembles, St. Olaf Choir’s performance Thursday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church and Saturday afternoon at North Medford High School.

Anton Armstrong leads St. Olaf Choir’s 2018 tour. Photo: Flight Creative Media.

Led for 28 years by Anton Armstrong, familiar to Oregon audiences through his long tenure leading youth choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival, this year’s group sports several members from Oregon and is performing music by Portland born, Salem-based composer/educator (and St. Olaf alum) Stanford Scriven, as well as a J.S. Bach arrangement by Seattle’s John Muelheisen and Sure On This Shining Night by Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen. The program contains mostly compositions by 20th and 21st century  composers including Eric Whitacre, Robert Scholz, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, Moses Hogan, Jean Berger, Carolyn Jennings, Ralph Manuel, David Conte, choir founder F. Melius Christiansen, plus the  Sanctus from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and a selection from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criola.

Choral glory continues with Chanticleer’s performances Friday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall as part of the San Francisco ensemble’s 40th anniversary tour. This year’s program, “Heart of a Soldier,” includes songs from across the ages on the sadly perennial subject of human conflict and its consequences by Renaissance European composers William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Clement Janequin, and Guillaume Dufay through some of the finest contemporary American composers including Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates.

Friends of Chamber Music often brings Chanticleer to Portland.

Another superb vocal ensemble, Portland’s world-renowned Cappella Romana, brings over the great French conductor Marcel Peres (who helped rescue early music from dry, scholarly performances) to lead one of the great Renaissance masterpieces, Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass of Notre Dame Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sunday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church.

Pérès’s Ensemble Organum’s 1996 recording of the masterpiece by the the greatest composer/poet of the 14th century used Corsican singers versed in traditional embellishments that might resemble medieval vocal practices. Their intentionally earthier vocal textures and Peres’s emphasis on lower voices produced as much controversy as early music ever experiences — decried by devotees of later choral music’s restrained, pristine Anglican choirboy sound (which most previous recordings adopted), praised by those (like me) who cherished its folkier, emotionally expressive power. His approach should make an excellent match for Cappella’s singers (particularly its magnificent basses), themselves experienced in medieval Mediterranean vocal traditions.


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And if that’s not enough vocal music for you, Bach Cantata Choir‘s annual Super Bach Sunday show pits Johann Sebastian against Tom Brady. Guess which will be still be playing a century from now? And check back next week to hear about yet another great touring choir’s appearance.

Speaking of voices, Newport Symphony Orchestra calls its performances this weekend “American Voices,” and it boasts appealing music by Portland’s own Kenji Bunch (who performs too, Verso for violin, viola, harpsichord and string orchestra), Aaron Copland (El Salon Mexico), early 20th century impressionist Charles Griffes (The White Peacock) and Samuel Barber (you know what, but also his first symphony).

On Saturday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony joins forces with the voices of Portland State choristers to perform the music to the enduring video game franchise Final Fantasy, accompanied by spectacular visuals. (Re)read Maria Choban’s ArtsWatch story about video game music, the orchestra’s last performance of Final Fantasy music, and conductor Arnie Roth, who’ll lead this performance.

Last chance to catch the final acts of this year’s inaugural Spontaneous Combustion new music festival when the terrific young City of Tomorrow wind quintet performs Thursday at Portland’s Old Church and Friday at Eugene’s Saraha Nyingma Buddhist Temple. Type their name into the search box at the top of this page to read our previous coverage of this terrific group, which this time plays music by recent Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe, major prize winner Hans Abrahamsen, Esa-Pakka Salonen, and other current composers.

City Of Tomorrow performs in Eugene and Portland. Photo: Tarina Westlund.

Since winning won one of classical music’s most prestigious prizes a few years ago (when they were based, appropriately, in the Windy City of Chicago), the Boston/Memphis based group and has gone on to create terrific performances and recordings of mid 20th century modernist and contemporary music for winds.


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Ashley Bathgate performs at Spontaneous Combustion new music festival. Photo: Stephanie Berger.

At the same two venues on Friday (Portland) and Saturday (Eugene), the festival’s starriest name, Bang on a Can cellist Ashley Bathgate, plays music by the greatest living composer, Steve Reich, one of the most highly regarded young composers, LA’s Andrew Norman, and more. It’s been a fab fest so far and these shows promise to at least match the rest.

Speaking of spontaneous combustion, one of Oregon’s most valuable music organizations, Chamber Music Northwest, was devastated when flames consumed its offices this week. Help them rebound by contributing here.

And if you just can’t wait till the PDX Jazz Festival arrives a couple weeks hence, check out Chick Corea’s latest trio Tuesday at Eugene’s The Shedd.

Got more Oregon music recommendations? Tell the rest of us about them in the comments below.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.


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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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