MusicWatch Weekly: March modness & more

Chamber, choral, orchestral, piano and other classical music on Oregon stages this week

The big musical news this weekend is the return of March Music Moderne, and you can read all about it in our separate preview. But it’s hardly the only musical magic happening in Oregon this week. Still, compared to the abundant new music on offer at MMM, some of this week’s other classical offerings look positively Jurassic.

Chamber Music

On Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friends of Chamber Music hosts another in its entertaining Not So Classic series shows devoted to performers who add a touch of fun, folk, pop, and/or world music spice to the usual heavy duty chamber music menu. Janoska Ensemble’s special sauce is sparkling arrangements of Gypsy, tango and pop music for its two violins-piano-and bass lineup. The Bratislava-born quartet has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Royal Albert Hall to Sydney Opera House, often joining non-classical champs like Bobby McFerrin and Palo de Lucia as well as classical stars. This show features cheeky arrangements of classics by Massenet, Kreisler, Johann Strauss Jr., Bizet, Piazzolla, Mozart, Paganini and more, along with the band’s original compositions in the same spirit.

On March 25 and 27 at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Delgani String Quartet plays a pair of chamber classics by Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Borodin, plus a swinging contemporary piece that the fine New York violist/composer Ljova (Russian-born Lev Zhurbin) wrote for Brooklyn Rider. Culai, named after the founder of the great Gypsy ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks, ripples and sways with Roma dance rhythms.

Portland Piano International brings Dénes Várjon to Portland State University.

Portland Piano International brings much-respected and -recorded Dénes Várjon to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall Saturday to play bagatelles by Beethoven, various works by Bartok, nocturnes by Chopin, and Ravel’s great Gaspard of the Night. On Sunday, along with a Mozart sonata and a fantasy piece by Schumann, he tackles one of the all-time biggies by another Hungarian master: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in b minor.

Vocal Music

Portland all star choir The Ensemble brings two of its star singers and chamber ensemble to perform a pair of Italian Baroque classics on March 24 at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, and March 25 at Portland’s Old Church. Giovanni Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater belongs on any list of 18th century sacred music masterpieces, but it’s often performed by much larger forces than it was written for. When you strip it down to the basics, those singers better be fantastic because there’s nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Catherine van der Salm and Laura Beckel Thoreson are among the Northwest’s finest classical singers. They’ll also perform a less-well known Italian masterpiece of the period, Giovanni Battista Ferrandini’s dramatic Il pianto di Maria, which sounds so much like early Handel that it was long mistakenly attributed to him.

If it’s male voices you crave, Satori Men’s Chorus’s March 24 Returning Light concert at Portland’s Central Lutheran Church ranges from spirituals to barbershop harmonies to classic pop to sacred music masterpieces. And Light Opera of Portland strays from its usual Gilbert & Sullivan with Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly’s The Student Prince at Alpenrose Dairy.

Orchestral Offerings

The Oregon Symphony is playing dinosaurs again. No, not one of those programs studded with long dead composers, but ’its latest live score to a popular film: John Williams’s roaring score to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park Saturday and Sunday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Also Saturday and Sunday, Newport Symphony performs another Liszt masterpiece, the tone poem Les Preludes, one of Haydn’s better early symphonies, number 26, a Wagner short take, and Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Narek Arutyunian. There’ll also be a special Ravelian tribute to the orchestra’s frequent guest conductor, David Ogden Stiers, who, as we reported earlier, passed away this month.

We started with the forward-looking Cascadia Composers/March Music Moderne show; let’s end by looking even farther into the future, with another free event featuring new music by Oregon composers. You can catch a glimpse of the future of Oregon jazz at Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s latest Grasshoppers Young Composers Program performance Sunday night at Portland’s The 1905 club. PJCE’s mentoring program resembles FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project, pairing today’s Portland jazz masters in extended mentoring sessions with rising young college and high school age composers. Click on the podcast link below for more info.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

About the author
Senior Editor | Website

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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