MusicWatch Weekly: Mahlerian May

Mega-symphonies and more resound in Oregon concerts this week

Mahler’s symphonies seem like a closing chapter, a culmination of big, Romantic orchestral music. So large (and expensive!) are the forces required, that orchestras often save them for the end of the season. On Thursday, Francesco Lecce-Chong concludes his debut season with the Eugene Symphony with Symphony #5, along with Haydn’s delightful Symphony #88, still one of his most popular. Mahler wanted to pack a world into each of his symphonies, and this 1902 colossus traverses an astonishing emotional range, veering from funereal to violent to inebriated to anxious to ardent to a demented orchestral punch line.

Gustav Mahler.

In Portland, the Oregon Symphony closes its season this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with Mahler’s relatively infrequently played 1905 seventh symphony (“A Lotta Night Music”), which does not need more cowbell. And next Tuesday, Corvallis OSU Symphony Orchestra plays his massive, summery third symphony at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center.

The excellent Delgani String Quartet also goes big in its season-ender Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night at Eugene’s Temple Beth Israel, and Monday night at Portland’s Old Church, adding a second violist (Elizabeth Freivogel of the award-winning Jupiter Quartet) so they can play a pair of too rarely heard (because they require that “extra” player) classical masterpieces: Mozart’s G Minor quintet and Brahms’s G major quintet.

Delgani Quartet adds a guest for its performances in Portland and Eugene.

In “Rituals” Friday night at N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland/Seattle new music ensemble Sound of Late, one of the freshest additions to the Northwest’s burgeoning contemporary classical music scene, offers a pair of Portland premieres by Alvin Singleton and acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a composition by Chet Udell that uses motion-sensor electronics and horn, a 20th century classic by the late pioneering composer Pauline Oliveros, and the world premiere of a lament by promising Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer, who just scored a major national award for emerging women composers.

Sophiko Simsive performs in Portland, Salem, and Hood River.

Speaking of Oregon composers, Portland’s Kenji Bunch contributed a new piece to Sophiko Simsive’s performances at Portland Piano Company (Wednesday), Salem Library (Thursday), and Hood River Middle School (Friday afternoon). The award-winning Georgian pianist’s free recital, part of Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregon composers with emerging young touring pianists, also features sonatas by Mozart and Scriabin and Ravel’s marvelously modernized reinvention of an old dance form, The Waltz (La Valse) — which in turn inspired Bunch’s new Discothèque.

Speaking of Bunch, his father Ralph wrote the libretto for another new piece by still another Portland composer, John Vergin, which the latter will perform on piano with singers Alexis Hamilton and Brian Tierney Sunday night at Reed College’s Eliot Hall Chapel. Their song cycle Eleanora Andreevna takes its title from the name of Bunch’s Soviet-born wife, who escaped German bombing during World War II and grew up to become one of the nation’s top female computer scientists and to save Ralph’s life. They married when both were in their late 50s and she died in 2012.

Frank Martin didn’t even publish his 1922 Mass for 40 years, considering the devotional music too personal. But choirs have increasingly taken it up, including recent performances by Oregon Repertory Singers, Cantores in Ecclesia and now these Portland Symphonic Choir performances Friday and Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral led by PSC music director candidate Richard Sparks. When Sparks was with a Canadian choir, he also commissioned the other work on the program, Canadian composer Allan Bevan’s 2005 Good Friday meditation Nou goth sonne under wode, and now he’s bringing it here for its Portland premiere.

Speaking of choral music, the award winning Portland State University Chamber Choir closes its season Friday at First United Methodist Church with music by Mendelssohn, Monteverdi, Eric Whitacre, and arrangements of music from around the world. Then they head off to South America to conquer another choral frontier.

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald (who also sports a pair of Grammies, an Emmy, and a National Medal of Arts) joins the Oregon Symphony Tuesday in classic show tunes, film songs, and original music written especially for her incomparable voice.

The symphony’s principal cellist, Nancy Ives, also guest stars with Portland Cello Project Friday night at Portland’s Revolution Hall, in a show that also sports veteran Portland jazzman Farnell Newton and rising Northwest folk phenom Maiah Wynne.

Gamelan Sari Pandhawa plays Javanese and American music Sunday.

On Sunday at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard Street, Eugene’s Gamelan Sari Pandhawa plays traditional and contemporary Javanese music, arrangements of Western music for gamelan, and original compositions by the group’s music director, Ken Jennings. They’re joined by Tirta Tari dance ensemble from Lane Community College and Javanese dancers.

On Sunday afternoon at Kiggins Theatre, Vancouver Symphony musicians perform a live chamber score to Ernst Lubitsch’s 1925 silent film Lady Windermere’s Fan, based on Oscar Wilde’s comedy. Colorado-based pianist Rodney Sauer arranged this new score, compiled from dance tunes and stock film music of the period, so it’ll sound something like what audiences might have heard when the film premiered.

Clarice and Sergio Assad perform Saturday in Eugene.

Oregon’s Brazilian bonanza continues in a pair of concerts. Acclaimed composer/singer/pianist Clarice Assad joins her famous guitar playing dad Sergio Assad in a Saturday samba celebration at Eugene’s The Shedd. And Brazilian guitar great Diego Figueiredo teams up with the great jazz clarinetist and frequent Oregon visitor Ken Peplowski for a bossa nova banquet Thursday at Portland’s Old Church.

Finally, a pair of Seattle experimental musicians, punk-jazz sax master Skerik and electronic musician Nordra, team up for separate and combined sets Saturday at Portland’s Beacon Sound. Nordra’s music uses processed trumpet, drum machine, electronics, voice and guitar. Skerik’s set features original compositions using various effects, loopers, and digital wizardry, including works inspired by Ligeti and Messiaen.

Got more mighty musical recommendations? Let us all know in the comments section below.

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Brett Campbell has been classical music editor at Willamette Week since 2008, music columnist for Eugene Weekly since 1996, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal since 2000. He is a frequent contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities and has also written for The Oregonian, 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. He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.

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