Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

MusicWatch Weekly: Getting creative

Third Angle welcomes Oregonian composers home. Creative Music Guild improvises.


The best and worst thing about Portland audiences is that they really, really listen to the music. At rock shows like the one your night owl music editor attended Tuesday night at Southeast’s Bit House Saloon, the audience stood around intently focused on listening to loud, thrashing, doomy punk and metal. It’s pretty much always like this at bar shows in this rainy, hoodied town: one hand cradling a glass, the other loosely plunged into one pocket, earplugs in, heads bobbing, but usually no dancing, no mosh pits, no movement from anyone but the musicians. Moving around too much would get you all sweaty and uncomfortable. And besides, you’re here to listen to some damn music.

Meanwhile, across town at the venerable Schnitz, enthusiastic audients got shushed for applauding the first movement of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England last Sunday. Have a listen to that beautiful barnstormer of luscious melodic overload for yourself:

Ah, but it’s only the first of three movements, so the scattered applause didn’t really take off. It’s always a little embarrassing when this happens. There are valid psychoacoustic reasons for not applauding between movements, but it’s also sad to hear spontaneous joy being stifled.

Anyways, it was the only low point of a wonderful concert full of melodic bliss and rhythmic verve. Three Places and Stravinsky’s Firebird are both swarming with melodies, mostly borrowed from hymns and other folk musics, all given the Modern Classical twist: everything all at once in rhythmic counterpoint and overwhelming panmelodic delight. Andy Akiho’s Percussion Concerto was sandwiched tastily between these, a new work in the Ives-Stravinsky vein, comfortable treating melody and harmony and rhythm and color and texture as isomorphic layers of some Hermetic miracula rei unius.

You’ll hear all about this concert from Charles Rose in his mid-season write-up, but there’s one detail from the concerto I’d like to share with you. After the full Ives (and consequent burst of licit applause), Currie took his place before the table of ceramic bowls Akiho carefully selected for the first movement and started doing his four-chopstick thing. About halfway through, some weird new timbre joined in: a boingy metal Chinese Opera gong kind of sound, interlocking with the shiny ceramic bowl riffs, another layer of springy rhythmic counterpoint running through the catchy-as-hell melodic ceramica. The sproinging sound was nothing more than a pair of shallow metal bowls, flipped upside down in between the ceramic bowls, as you can see in this photo taken by principal cellist Nancy Ives:

Tuned ceramic bowls, untuned metal bowls, chopsticks. Photo by Nancy Ives.

No place like home

We here at Arts Watch feel it is our right and duty to demand local music, which is why we love hearing composers like Akiho come here to compose concertos for the Oregon Symphony. And we’re especially blessed to have a variety of local choirs and chamber groups commissioning and performing music by Oregon composers – consider Fear No Music, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers, Foris Choir, and Third Angle New Music.


CMNW Council

This week, Oregonianhood is the focus of 3A’s “Homecomings” concerts at Southeast Portland’s New Expressive Works on the 17th and 18th, featuring music by several composers who live in Oregon, or come from Oregon, or have some connection to the state. The concerts feature premieres of new music by Aaron Helgeson, Phil Taylor, Lisa Neher, and Mario Díaz, alongside works by Andrea Reinkemeyer, Fear No Music artistic director Kenji Bunch, and Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford. Díaz himself plays guitar, 3A Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann plays flute, Valdine Mishkin plays cello (no singing this time, probably), and Chris Whyte–one quarter of Portland Percussion Group–plays percussion.

But if you’re going to play old music, it might as well be Bach. Argentine-American violinist Tomas Cotik has played plenty of Piazzolla since he’s been in Portland, but often seems more at home with composers of the Austrian-German tradition, and on the 19th he celebrates the release of his new album of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin with a concert of same in PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Creative Music

Another local music org championing homebrewed music: Creative Music Guild, whose annual Improvisation Summit of Portland is happening right now and continues through Sunday.

CMG’s shows usually pair local and touring musicians, and this week’s string of concerts is no exception. The highlight for me is multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, whom I first heard playing Pythagorean fretless bass grooves in Californian composer Trey Spruance’s mystical rhythm-and-intonation band Secret Chiefs 3.

On the 17th at Holocene (tonight!), Ismaily plays synthesizer with Fripptastic Portland guitarist Ryan Miller’s Embedded Star Ensemble on a concert with Portland synthesizerist Saloli and Brooklyn-based saxophonist-composer Darius Jones. Tomorrow, on Friday the 18th at the S1 gallery and synth library on Northeast Sandy, Ismaily performs in a trio with Portland drummer John Niekrasz and Oliveros-trained sound artist Ayako Kataoka. Also on the bill: more saxophonists, including Sexmob’s Briggan Krauss and Vancouver’s Keith Wecker; Brooklyn guitarist Max Kutner; and Portland electronicists Crystal Cortez and Jamondria Marnice Harris. And if you’ve been waiting all year for CMG’s infamous Annual Improvised Round Robin Duets, this is the show you want to be at.

Saturday, at Northeast Portland’s darling Leaven Community Center, it’s the Extradition Series Fall Concert. The present author might be spotted at this one, becoming Part of the Story and reading aloud from Jack London’s White Fang in Luke Nickel’s White Fang Field Recording. The rest of the show is classic Extradition: experimental music composed by Toshi Ichiyanagi, Sarah Hughes, Matthias Kaul, and Daniel James Wolf, performed by the faithfully adventurous Extradition crew on guitar, dobro, flute, voice, piano and other percussion, metronomes apparently, and all manner of electronics.


Seattle Repertory Theatre Fat Ham

The Summit closes with Sunday brunch at The 1905. Like all Portland brunches, the festivities extend until nearly midnight, with touring and local bands getting jazz all over your pizza and cocktails. On the early 11:30 spot, omnipresent Portland guitarist Mike Gamble and drummer Daniel Rossi back Portland Jazz Composer Ensemble trumpeter Noah Simpson. Round suppertime, Rich Halley’s Outside Music Ensemble brings their miniature big band inside. For my money, this sextet is the band to catch: trumpet, trombone, a pair of saxes (Halley on tenor), and a pair of drummers. You’ll never be sorry for having seen a band with two drummers.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at

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