MusicWatch Weekly: freedom songs

Socially conscious sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

In focusing on the music of the past, classical music programming has too often ignored the concerns of the present. But over the past couple years, some Portland classical music organizations have focused on issues of social and especially racial justice — none more conscientiously than the all star choir Resonance Ensemble, which devoted last season to music and poetry related to some of today’s most pressing social concerns.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s Hidden Voices concert continues that commendable emphasis by taking the music out of the usual concert halls and bringing it to Bethel A.M.E. Church, 5828 NE 8th Ave., Portland’s oldest continuously operating black church, and also Oregon’s only African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Composer Damien Geter sings with Resonance Ensemble. Photo: Kenton Waltz.

With help from BRAVO Youth Orchestra (Portland’s version of Venezuela’s groundbreaking El Sistema program that brings classical music training to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it) and Derrick McDuffey and the gospel ensemble Kingdom Sound, they’ll perform the world premiere of a movement from Resonance singer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s Requiem, which sets texts by African-American men killed by police, and the West Coast premiere of American Dreamers, a piece by young Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy (whose Gonzales Cantata was performed last week by Portland’s Big Mouth) that sets texts by five Americans who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. Resonance Poet in Residence S. Renee Mitchell contributes another original work.

• The 20-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs “Songs of the Free” Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, often mixes traditional and popular music from around Africa with exuberant American gospel styles and even pop music arrangements by African diasporites like Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding and Bob Marley. Winner of top gospel music awards and Grammys, the choir has scored a world music chart-topping album, worked with members of Queen and Bono, and performed for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Composed of some of the finest singers around Soweto and Johannesburg, its concerts present a striking visual as well as auditory experience, replete with multi colored traditional costumes, high kicking synchronized dance moves, and accompanying percussion such as the djembe drum. Even when they sing Xhosa and a half dozen other languages, the ensemble supplies English explanations of the stories behind the songs.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

• Another Portland music institution whose programming has recently responded to today’s social concerts, FearNoMusic, joins Portland Taiko in music that responds to the American government’s brutal imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Sunday night’s Sticks + Strings concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., the new music group accompanies the Japanese percussion ensemble’s drummers in the premiere of Dango Jiru for taiko, flute, violin, and cello, a new work by FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch, Portland’s hottest contemporary composer, who’ll also play his haunting solo viola, Minidoka, inspired by his visit to one of those concentration camps. Portland Taiko will also perform one of their own pieces on that subject and other works.

Kenji Bunch plays his own music with Portland Taiko.

Orchestral Highlights

• Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at Portland’s First Baptist Church and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium not only present some of the standards of baroque music — Vivaldi’s Op. 3 violin concertos — but also some of the Red Priest’s equally ebullient music for singer (this time, Czech soprano Hana Blažíková) and orchestra: In furore iustissimae irae, RV626 and Nulla in mundo pax, RV 630.

• Another historically informed band, Emerald Chamber Orchestra, with singers Phoebe Gildea and Trevor Cook perform J.S. Bach’s fun Peasant Cantata (featuring a farmer and a tax collector) and his famous Orchestral Suite #2 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church Auditorium at 14th and Pearl Streets.

• Oregon Symphony backs singer Lila Downs Monday night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. A poster child for everything the most rabid Trumpistas despise, the Oaxaca-born Grammy-winning Mexican-American singer-songwriter was inspired to write music after hearing about a man who drowned trying to cross illegally from Mexico to the US.

Lila Downs performs with Oregon Symphony Monday.

An activist as well as musician, her songs often touch on social justice concerns. Her music surmounts walls both linguistic (singing in Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl and Purépecha as well as Spanish and English) and stylistic, blending American rock, Mexican folk and pop, and many other influences from both sides of that impending wall.

• Eugene Symphony’s Thursday Hult Center concert features eminent Portland composer David Schiff’s Stomp, along with Beethoven’s underrated eighth symphony and Leonard Bernstein’s second symphony, a piano concerto-in-disguise (starring pianist Ran Dank) titled The Age of Anxiety and inspired by the W.H. Auden poem of the same name.

Eugene Symphony plays music by Reed College professor David Schiff

Chamber Music

• Sunday afternoon at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall, the Dali Quartet plays a pair of too little known string quartets by 19th century Spaniard Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (his ebullient, Haydnesque third quartet) and the great 20th century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (his daring, dramatic first quartet, which combines folk rhythms and avant garde textures a la Bartok). They’re joined by Russian star pianist Olga Kern in Robert Schumann’s ever-popular Piano Quintet in E-flat. Kern won the world’s most prestigious piano competition, the Van Cliburn, and the Dali members rose through Venezuela’s famed El Sistema democratic musical training system. In previous Oregon visits, the foursome has delivered warmly expressive performances of both European and Latin American repertoire.

The Dali Quartet, here performing at Portland’s Old Church concert hall, plays Eugene’s Beall Hall Sunday.

• Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s Sunday concert at Old Church Concert Hall features its top soloists playing and singing music by songwriters supreme from Schubert and Schumann to Carole King and Randy Newman, Faure, Gottschalk and more.

Jazz

• Jazz savior Kamasi Washington returns to Portland’s Crystal Ballroom Thursday. Since Angela Allen previewed his November 2016 appearance in ArtsWatch, the saxophone titan has released another sweeping LP and a strong EP, as well as making his usual guest appearances on other artists’ recordings.

• And since I reviewed Swiss jazz keyboardist/composer Nik Bärtsch’s 2012 PDX Jazz Festival appearance, he’s performed again in Portland and returns Saturday to Portland’s Jack London Revue behind a strong new album, Awase.

• On Friday at Portland’s Revolution Hall and Monday at Eugene’s Shedd, another jazz superstar, guitar god Pat Metheny, brings his quartet to Oregon for a rare retrospective of favorites from his four-decade career. Stay tuned for next week’s MusicWatch and read about more groovy jazz guitar coming to Oregon.

Gary Ferrington’s streaming picks

• PSU Noon Concert Series: David Friesen Quartet with Joe Manis Thursday, October 18 2:00 -1:00pm (PDT). (click on videos)

• Doctoral recital by Nathan M. Asman (music technology) UO School of Music and Dance. Saturday, October 20, 7-8pm (PDT) (click on videos)

• Lewis and Clark Orchestra Concert 7:30pm (PDT) October 21

•  All Classical Portland streams a panel discussion about the great 20th century American composer William Grant Still’s influential The American Scene, which Portland Youth Philharmonic performs on its Oregon tour between October 27 and November 10. Panelists include PYP music director David Hattner, Portland State prof and composer/pianist Darrell Grant, and Oregon Symphony violist Jennifer Arnold. 6 pm Oct. 23.

Let us know about other worthy Oregon music in the comments section below.

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