Seattle Repertory Theatre Fat Ham

MusicWatch Weekly: generation next


It’s probably too late for the next generations to save our planet from the greed and selfishness of their elders, but at least they’ll have music to console them. Young musicians, like young Americans in general, do give me what little hope remains for our future. This month offers numerous opportunities to hear music by and for young Oregonians.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays new and old music this weekend.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony teams up with Fear No Music’s valuable Young Composers Project in the inaugural performance of its new series of student commissions called “The Authentic Voice,” presented and performed by MYS. Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall features Tone Poem No. 1: Orpheus and Eurydice, a brand new piece composed and conducted by high school senior Jake Safirstein, one of three composers who this year receive supportive training in a series of private lessons and small group workshops led by Fear No Music’s master musicians in addition to orchestral readings with MYS’s Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes Italian-themed music by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, plus music that’s delighted kids for decades when it appeared in Fantasia: Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Saturday concert in the same venue offers a rare opportunity to hear music by the dean of African American classical composers, William Grant Still, whose still-appealing music, often drawing on folk traditions, was underplayed in his lifetime because of racism, orchestras’ snobbish disdain for American composers, and mid-century trend-setters’ fear of music that could be enjoyed by broad audiences. That included Still’s 1957 American Scene: Five Suites for Young Americans, one of those worthy but neglected works by African American composers that Damien Geter wrote about in his ArtsWatch story last month. Along with its The Far West section, PYP will play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist 17-year-old violinist Aaron Greene, winner of PYP’s 2018-19 Soloist Competition, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. Next month, we’ll tell you about FNM’s own concert pertaining to children and our future.

Violinist Aaron Greene performs with Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo: Brian Clark

• We’re getting an early jump on next Wednesday’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras Breaking the Cage, a multi-media event at Portland’s Old Church featuring collective compositions by the young BRAVO musicians (some with personal connections to immigration) responding to the cruel detentions and family separations perpetrated by the government at America’s southwestern border. Along with ashort documentary film about the project, the show also features engaging Portland looping violinist and songwriter Joe Kye.

• Audiences should also look a lot younger than usual at the Oregon Symphony’s Tchaikovsky vs. Drake concert at Schnitzer Thursday night. Guest conductor Steve Hackman, perpetrator of last season’s similarly conceived “Brahms vs. Radiohead” program, this time brings three singers and a rapper to mashup a dozen hits by Drake (whose Scorpion is the year’s biggest album so far) with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with help from Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir.

• Also note another kid-friendly Tchaikovsky/hip-hop mashup Tuesday and next Wednesday at Portland’s Keller Auditorium: Hip Hop Nutcracker, and Black Violin heads back to Portland November 18. Read Maria Choban’s ArtsWatch review of their last appearance.


Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

Steve Hackman, who led the Oregon Symphony in ‘Brahms vs. Radiohead,’ returns for ‘Tchaikovsky vs. Drake.’

• The Oregon Symphony continues its family friendly month with Sunday afternoon’s “Pirates” concert, which again includes Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir. Narrator Pam Mahon fashions a story around bite-sized classics by Korngold, Mendelssohn, Handel, Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Verdi and the inevitable The Little Mermaid score.

Oregon Originals

• Oregon’s finest chamber ensemble, Delgani String Quartet, and one of its top pianists, Asya Gulua, star in Saturday’s celebration of Polish independence at Portland’s Polish Hall (3832 N. Interstate). The program includes four premieres of new music by members of Cascadia Composers inspired by the centennial of Polish independence. Jay Derderian’s multimedia string quartet Begin Again is inspired by Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony, one of the most popular late 20th century classical compositions. Liz Nedela’s Tone Portrait of Poland is based on Polish national dances and its national anthem. Paul Safar’s Incantation was inspired by poetry of one of the 20th century’s finest poets, Czeslaw Milosz. And the inspiration for Stephen Lewis’s Citizen/Subject is right there in its subtitle: “eating pierogis in America.” The program includes a 20th century masterpiece, Karol Szymanowski’s 1927 String Quartet no. 2.


• The Polish party continues Sunday at Milwaukie High School Auditorium, where Willamette Falls Symphony performs rarely heard orchestral works by Henryk Wieniawski, Emil Szymon Młynarski, and Zygmunt Noskowski.

• There’s more original Oregon music on the bill, as well as more Tchaikovsky, at Beaverton Symphony’s fall concerts Friday and Sunday at Village Baptist Church.  Christina Rusnak continues her series of landscape oriented music with The Mountain Within, inspired by a hiking journey through Denali wilderness and its effect on the humans who explore it. Portland violinist Tomas Cotik continues his traversal of 20th century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s colorful Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, and we get yet another chance to hear Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony.

Portland composer Christina Rusnak at Composing in the Wilderness 2017.

• “I like that last piece you played,” President Eisenhower once told Leonard Bernstein. “It’s got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles.(The first word refers to the solo songs in operas, the second to music in the style of the folk songs crooned by Venetian gondoliers to match their paddle strokes.) Amused, America’s greatest man of music never forgot Ike’s remark, and nearly three decades later, used it as the title of his charming last major work. Ranging in styles from Broadway to Bartok to Mahler and compiled from compositions over several decades, the eclectic Arias and Barcarolles does have a theme — marriage — and Oregon Mozart Players perform it Saturday night at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall with, appropriately, a husband and wife team of soloists, Paul Scholten and Kathryn Leemhuis.

The show also features another voice — perhaps that should be Voice — the rich mahogany bass baritone of Peter van de Graaff, the nationally renowned veteran classical radio host who calls Eugene (and KWAX radio) home these days, narrates Aaron Copland’s classic setting of altogether more inspiring Presidential words: Lincoln Portrait.

Kelly Kuo leads Oregon Mozart Players.

Both Copland and Bernstein, our greatest advocates of contemporary American music, would have been pleased to see that the final piece on OMP’s all-American program was written by a living American composer. LA-based Adam Schoenberg is now one of the most performed composers of his generation, but he was only 25 and a student of John Corigliano when he wrote Finding Rothko in 2006. Inspired by the great American abstract painter (who grew up in Portland), it too has a theme, a musical phrase that connects the four movements, each named for a prominent color (red, yellow, orange, wine) in Rothko’s palette and each representing one of his paintings.


Seattle Opera Barber of Seville


• Bernstein and Poland aren’t the only anniversaries granted musical celebrations this week. On Armistice/Veterans Day, to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I, the accomplished Portland choir Cappella Romana ventures far from its usual ancient music. “They Are at Rest,” Sunday afternoon at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, features sacred choral music by English (but not other combatant nations) composers of the era, including Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Hubert Parry, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the North American premiere performance of Ivor Gurney’s recently rediscovered 1925 motet Since I Believe.

• Portland State University’s Friday and Sunday Gender Bender concerts at First United Methodist Church at first glance seem to include new ensembles: Thorn Choir and Rose Choir. In fact, these are the renamed Vox Femina and Man Choir, commendably rebranded with gender neutral names. “After all, not all sopranos and altos are women, and not all tenors and basses are men,” the press release notes. Gender identity informs the program too, including a new choral work about a 10-year-old trans boy coming out to his mother, written by  award-winning composer Gerald Gurss, who conducts the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, music by acclaimed Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, and works traditionally sung by men’s and women’s choruses.

• La Traviata concludes its run at Portland Opera this weekend. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.

Portland Opera’s ‘La Traviata’ runs two more performances, Thursday and Saturday. Photo: Cory Weaver

Chamber Music

• Also at Portland State, the school’s Steinway Piano Series brings Jenny Lin to Lincoln Recital Hall Friday night. One of the brightest American piano stars of her generation, Lin plays a mix of classic (Bach, Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya) and contemporary (Philip Glass) music.

Jenny Lin performs at Portland State University.

• And on Saturday and Sunday afternoon in the same venue, pianophiliacs can make a weekend of it by catching Portland Piano International’s recitals by acclaimed Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg. The Gramophone award winner will play another work inspired by World War I catastrophe, Ravel’s At the Tomb of Couperin, sonatas by Beethoven and Prokofiev, preludes by Rachmaninov, and his own solo piano arrangement of Shostakovich’s third string quartet.


Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

• 45th Parallel Universe updates both form and content in Friday’s double concert “Autumn Music”/ “Ambient Resonances” at Portland’s Old Church. First, one subset, the Arcturus Quintet wind ensemble performs an attractive 20th/21st century, all-American program of music by Jennifer Higdon, Irving Fine, and Samuel Barber. Then, percussion duo Gemini II plays percussion music by Steve Reich, Andy Akiho (whose music thrilled Chamber Music Northwest crowds the past few summers), and others, including Gemini’s own Sergio Carreno. You can choose to attend either show or (at a discounted price) both. Read Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch story about the story behind this inventive re-configuration.

Arcturus Wind Quintet performs Friday.

• More Oregon Symphony musicians accompany Portland pianist, singer and songwriter Naomi LaViolette in a live recording of her latest original songs, including some from her admirable Saving His Music project.

• A different kind of solo performance happens at Portland’s Old Church Thursday night when cellist Adam Hurst performs original music from his 16th CD. The newly released Talisman includes compositions for cello, oud, harmonium, percussion, and upright bass.


• The biggest-name jazz show in Oregon is Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Revolution Hall with Still Dreaming, a quartet featuring saxophonist supreme Joshua Redman, trumpeter Ron Miles, drum god Brian Blade, and bassist Scott Colley.

• And on Monday at Mississippi Studios, Portland’s own popular jazz ensemble Blue Cranes opens for Bay Area drummer/composer Scott Amendola’s new trio Invisible Bird, featuring Kneebody trumpeter Shane Endsley and guitarist Dave Devine.


Lewis & Clark College Faculty Chamber Players at 7:30pm (PST), Wednesday, November 7, 2018. Carol Biel, Nancy Ives, Dunja Jennings, Holland Phillips, Jason Schooler, and Stephanie Thompson perform works by Bach, Schubert, Johanson, Boulanger, and Mangani.


Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

Noon Concert Series: Portland State University Chamber Choir at 12 noon (PST). Thursday, November 8.

Live from Beall Concert Hall: Jorge Briceño González Doctoral piano recital at 6pm (PST), Monday, November 12. Featuring sonatas by Mozart, Scriabin, and Prokofiev.

Live from Beall Concert Hall: Oregon Wind Ensemble presents Star Wars at 7:30pm (PST), Tuesday, November 13.

Live from Beall Concert Hall: UO Campus Band at 7:30pm (PST), Wednesday, November 14.

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.


One Response

  1. Ah, yet another exciting week of much more music in Global Village PDX!

    I’m particularly excited about Saturday’s concert @ Polish Hall. I’ve heard great things about the Delgani String Quartet & Asya Gulua is easily one of the very best pianists in Oregon.

    Getting to hear Szymanowski’s 2nd String Quartet again live for the first time since I left Poland 33 years ago has me ready to slam a few cups of Herbata Goralska (Polish Mountain Tea) in pre-concert celebration! Why this superb work isn’t regularly performed in the states is a mystery to me.

    Big thanx to Jack Gabel, Agnieszka Laska & Cascadia Composers for mounting this gig. D-Bob sez, check it out!

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