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MusicWatch Weekly: comings and goings


Portland’s summer music scene would feel incomplete without Portland SummerFest Opera in the Park, the annual free, family friendly opera performance in Washington Park Amphitheater, with the audience arrayed on their blankets gazing down at singers and orchestra on the amphitheater stage. In Saturday’s Tosca, veteran conductor Keith Clark leads an abridged concert performance (that is, no props, just singing and playing) that features singers who’ve starred on stages at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and beyond. Soprano Angela Brown (who’s also sung with many major orchestras and opera companies) sings the title role in Puccini’s popular perennial, with Portland’s own Met vet Richard Keller as the villainous Scarpia, bass baritone Deac Guidi, tenor Allan Glassman, chorus and orchestra.

Angela Brown stars in ‘Tosca’ at Portland SummerFest.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which opens Friday at Newmark Theatre, closes its summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Portland SummerFest brings ‘Tosca’ to Washington Park. Photo: Tasha Miller.

One of Oregon’s summer music treasures, Portland Piano Summer Festival, begins Monday and runs through August 3 at Lewis & Clark College. This year’s festival adds a new series of Kaleidoscope Lectures that “explore the world of music as it relates to science, language, and art, guided by experts in relevant fields,” including subjects like music and the brain, the birth of Romanticism, and, on Monday evening, Constance Jackson’s talk on Music and Meaning. The annual summer immersion in pianistic performance this time includes acclaimed pianist Tanya Gabrielian playing Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Gershwin, and Chopin on Monday. The next evening, she talks about composers and mental illness before Alexander Shtarkman tackles a great Beethoven sonata, Brahms’s quartet of Ballades, and Chopin’s two dozen Op. 28 Preludes. We’ll tell you about the rest of the fest next week.

The view from Mt. Angel Abbey.

Another Oregon summer music glory, the Mt. Angel Abbey Bach Festival, returns for its 47th season at the beautiful abbey near Silverton. Wednesday and Friday’s concerts have been sold out for awhile, but tickets remain Thursday’s performances by excellent Portland organist Douglas Schneider (featuring that most famous organ work by JS Bach) at 6 pm and for the evening concert by the Canadian duo of cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier, featuring more Bach, plus music by Schumann and one of Beethoven’s great cello sonatas.

Hunter Noack performs at Timothy Lake.

Tosca isn’t the only outdoor classical music event this week. On Thursday, Portland State University prof Ken Selden leads the Vancouver Symphony in a family-friendly, free outdoor concert in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park band shell featuring Shostakovich’s aptly titled Festive Overture, some of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, Copland’s Hoe Down (from his ballet score Rodeo) and music from Sleeping Beauty and Star Wars. And on Saturday, with Mt. Hood looming in the background, Portland pianist Hunter Noack brings his Steinway, wireless headphones, and engaging In a Landscape project to Cove Amphitheater on Timothy Lake.

Still another summer musical treat commences with Jacksonville’s annual Britt Orchestra Season, part of the Britt Music & Arts Festival. There will be one difference this year: due to wildfire smoke, these Britt Orchestra concerts have been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. Wednesday’s opening night concert features classics used in film, from Mozart, Wagner, John Williams, and more.

Friday’s highly recommended show reaffirms ambitious young music director Teddy Abrams’s commitment to new music (also a hallmark of his Louisville Orchestra leadership) with Gabriel Kahane’s emergency shelter intake form, an intriguing and sometimes moving new meditation on homelessness by one of America’s finest young composers co-commissioned by the festival and the Oregon Symphony, which premiered it this past spring with singers Measha Brueggergosman, Kristen Toedtman and Holcombe Waller, who return for this southern Oregon premiere. The concert (which is followed by a discussion about homelessness in Southern Oregon) also includes the Divertimento for Orchestra written by another young conductor prodigy, Leonard Bernstein, in celebration of his centenary.

Lenny’s first symphony, Jeremiah, and Brahms’s fourth are the stanchions of Saturday’s concert, bridged by another recent piece by a hot young American composer, Mason Bates’s Passage for mezzo (here, the irresistible Sasha Cooke), orchestra and laptop.

Alas, we must bid a fond farewell to this summer’s Chamber Music Northwest, which, like the Britt Festival, has again showed how a venerable institution can refresh itself with new music and young musicians. Wednesday night’s concert at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre features its young Protege Project players Daniel Hsu and the Verona Quartet in a Scriabin solo piano Fantasy, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 3 and then joining forces for Schumann’s perennial Piano Quintet in E-flat.

Hsu and the Verona Quartet returns for Friday’s final New@Noon concert at Portland State, featuring a new quartet by rising young American composer Julia Adolphe, Star-Crossed Signals, which “imagines stabs at communication between two bodies, two vessels separated by an expansive landscape.” The excellent Montrose Trio joins CMNW artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin in Pierre Jalbert’s 2015 Street Antiphons, while Hsu plays a short solo piece by pianist/composer Marc Andre Hamelin. The New@Noon shows have been some of the festival’s finest.

Montrose Trio performs at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Jerry Zolynsky.

The festival closes with Saturday and Sunday performances (at Reed College and Portland State, respectively) featuring some of Antonin Dvořák’s greatest hits: a sweet Sonatina, his stirring “American” quartet, and his sublime Serenade for Strings.

Finally, if you enjoyed or were intrigued by Finnish singer-songwriter-fiddler Sara Pajunen’s appearance at Portland’s Nordia House a couple summers back, check out her duo with Finnish accordionist Teija Niku, Aallotar, at the same venue this Sunday.

What else ya got for a sizzling summer week? Tell us about more hot Oregon music 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.