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MusicWatch Weekly: La dérive symphonique

Examining the New Flesh. Staying home and slaying dragons. Running on a treadmill. It's corona time.


Well, the good news this week is that beloved Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is still alive. See, here he is conducting his Violin Concerto No.2 ‘Metamorphosen’:

Put down your pitchfork, dear reader: this isn’t a tasteless joke but yet another complicated philosophical point. Penderecki has indeed left this vale of tears in order to go do whatever composers do when they’re done with their bodies, and you can mosey over here to read Arts Watch contributor Charles Rose’s assessment of Krzysztof’s time on this plane. But Penderecki did, before departing, leave many copies of himself scattered about this realm, and I don’t just mean the usual copies: written musical scores (we’ve had that form of immortality since Gutenberg) and the fond memories of his students and colleagues (that road to heaven has always been open to us all).

No, I’m mainly talking about the New Flesh, the digital ghost realm Penderecki now inhabits via the audio and video recordings he made while inhabiting the Old Flesh–these myriad recordings of Penderecki conducting his own work over the years make especially good company right now, here in the vale of tears. As more artists follow Penderecki (and Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, et alia) along the via dolorosa into virtual immortality, that famous old “giants walking behind you” problem becomes more acute than ever.

We recently argued that performing arts groups have to work harder than ever to compete with the best performers of both present and past, and hopefully we made a convincing argument that the only winning strategy lies in the future–that is, now is the time to program new music by living composers.

Slaying the dragons


Oregon Cultural Trust

“Now” is a slippery term, though. When is live music going to happen again, and what will it be like when it does? Will anyone be left to perform new music, or old music, or any music? Aquilon Music Festival recently announced the suspension of their summer festival, but Chamber Music Northwest remains on the books for June and July (and has laudably committed to paying some artist advances, a subject we’ll return to in our May Day column this Friday). Meanwhile, various spring concerts are being rescheduled for the same optimistic windows throughout summer and fall, and whenever we get back to Real Life the competition for everyone’s attention and entertainment budgets is likely to make us long for the days when it was only the choral ensembles who couldn’t stay clear of each others’ concert dates.

Then there’s the matter of keeping unemployed musicians alive and empty venues solvent. The Old Church and Alberta Rose Theatre are trying their damndest to stay alive so they can reopen. Rumors are afloat about which arts orgs have been getting paycheck relief and which have not–but we’re not going to fan those flames, because none of that is the actual problem. The real questions are: “Who is starving our musicians in a time of crisis?” “Who would dare close The Old Church during a disaster?” “What kind of monster would demand monetary tribute from the ill, the stricken, and the impoverished?”

We leave these questions as an exercise for the reader, and we’ll be keeping you informed as our quadrant of these stories develops. The only thing we can predict about how it’ll all play out in the long run is that it will be messy. Oregon ArtsWatch Executive Editor Barry Johnson is keeping an eye on that horizon, scanning the skies for dragons and other golden opportunities, and you can also stay tuned here for Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s music news updates.

Meanwhile, what can you do to keep musicians alive? Well, if you want to keep listening to music made in Oregon, you should be doing what you can to keep Oregonian musicians and institutions alive. Turn off the Met in HD, log out of the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall, and pay attention to your neighbors. Oregon Symphony and 45th Parallel Universe are just two of the groups that have made a bunch of their recent concerts available online, which is particularly lovely news for those of us who were bummed about missing Moser’s Lutosławski and 45||’s Smorgasbord.

Oregonian choral ensemble Cappella Romana not only livestreamed their empty-concert-hall Tchaikovsky Divine Liturgy performance last month, they archived it for lazybones like the present author to watch later. This weekend, you get to hear more from CR in the rebroadcast of their literally history-making 2016 Hagia Sophia concert, when they unveiled a “digital auralization” environment developed by mad scientists at Stanford.

What do you think, is that science about to become a lot more relevant?


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Another thing you can do (if you actually can, that is, and aren’t busy writing pathetic letters to your landlord): send some money to these people! Third Angle New Music just announced their 2020-21 season, Oregon Symphony’s next season is still on sale, and Portland Youth Philharmonic will be revealing their new season tomorrow (Thursday) on their weekly Conversations with the Conductor livestream featuring Musical Director David Hattner. If you’ve been waiting for an ideal time to become one of those classical music enthusiasts who buys season tickets, now’s your chance to help keep all these lovely groups afloat (and get your name on the donors list in the back of the program).

You might also buy a few albums, since recorded music is about to get a much-needed cultural boost and we know you want to be on the cutting edge of that revolution too. Mr. Campbell has been compiling reviews of albums by Oregon artists for years, and he’s busy narrowing down your choices to a few dozen key recommendations–read the first installment here, and the second tomorrow. And we’ll remind you again about the latest Bandcamp No Fees Friday this Friday, when we’re going to sit and have a little chat about Labor.

La dérive symphonique

Finally, dear reader, be sure to take care of yourself too. If you have a treadmill, hop on it. If you have a floor mat, do your yoga or pilates. If you have a float tank, remember to leave a snack for yourself. And no matter what, find an excuse to get outside for awhile. Soak up the sunshine, take a stroll through a park, get some forest therapy. Keep your appropriate distance (a five-octave marimba) and remember that the proper response to the Vulcan greeting “Live long and prosper” is “peace and long life.”

We don’t need any excuses for a good walk. From peripatetic Aristotle and homeless Jesus to Solnit’s wanderlust and Debord’s dérive, the foot-brain connection has long been recognized as a miracle drug for mental as well as physical health. Walking encourages your brain’s various regions to work together, which is like that old management trick of assigning rival employees to a collaborative project: either it works, or it keeps them too busy to cause trouble, or both. No wonder then that a long walk can be a fruitful time for conversation, reflection, creative brainstorming, spacing out, and all manner of mental activities that require a whole brain solution.

This makes your daily walk an ideal time for–you guessed it–listening to an entire album. We suggested recently that you ought to sit there and do nothing while listening to your favorite album, symphony, concerto, or other long-form musical product. The point of this is to help you focus on the music itself, and another way to do the same thing is to distract your body with a nice exhausting walk. Slip into your moseying booties, settle into an easy andante stride, get your Apollonian analytical hemisphere working together with your Dionysian intuitive hemisphere, and put on a decent pair of headphones.

The volume level is especially important. Normally, you don’t want your headphones too loud: if you’re doing it all day, every day, and using it to block out bus noise and other irritating sounds, that will give you hearing damage in a hurry. But on a briefish walk like what we’re suggesting (30-60 minutes) you should be alright at a slightly higher decibel level–especially since “higher” is relative and you’ll have less background noise to compete with.


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The goldilocks zone, volume-wise, is when you have it loud enough to overwhelm you but not loud enough to be physically painful. Your mileage will vary, and only you can be the judge. All we’re saying is “immerse yourself.”

What are your favorite albums? Best times and places for a walk? Know any good stretching routines? Report your results here!

And remember: we’re all in it together.

Want to read more cultural news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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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


One Response

  1. Since you asked about fave CDs these daze, well, I’m captivated by Michael Hersch’s “Violin Concerto.” The soloist is charismatic, Patricia Kopatchinskaja & she has this to say about the work:

    “There is no superficial beauty or decoration, and no compromises – everything is in the right place, crafted as if with a scalpel.”

    Oh, the other work on the CD is entitled “End Stages” (2016) & is every bit as “festive” as the concerto.

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