MusicWatch Weekly: out of the past

Oregon conference and concerts explore historical sounds, and there's new music onstage too

We sometimes imagine the past as a frozen portrait, but the early music movement that began accelerating a couple generations ago has revealed that our understanding of how music was performed and perceived in centuries past is ever evolving, thanks to the hard work of scholars around the world, including at the University of Oregon. Next week, the UO hosts a major recurring conference devoted to the continuing rediscovery of ancient music.

But unlike many such academic confabs, this week’s “Musicking: Cultural Considerations” has plenty to offer non academic music lovers, including concerts, theater showcases, masterclasses, lectures, panel discussions, even a Saturday family event where kids and their families can dress in costume and learn baroque dance basics — all free and open to the public. Unlike the recent American Choral Directors Association conference in Portland that, ArtsWatch’s Bruce Browne noted, missed a tremendous opportunity to bring new and old choral music to its host city by not publicizing its splendid concerts, Musicking provides a splendid example of how academia can connect to and enrich its supporting community.

Thursday’s Musicking concert brings world-renowned early music singer and recorder master Peter Van Heyghen from Belgium to perform early 17th century music from the Netherlands and Belgium with the UO’s own super-scholar/performer, baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck at the Oregon Bach Festival’s new Tykeson Concert Hall. Van Heyghen will also lead Saturday’s Beall Hall performance of a world premiere version of Mozart’s magnificent Requiem like you’ve never heard it before — because, well, you haven’t. There’s way too much more to chronicle here, so hie thee to the Musicking website and check out all the free music and knowledge emanating all week.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir play Bach Friday and Saturday.

Evolution of performance styles will also be on display in Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performances of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Much-recorded English conductor David Hill leads a masterpiece of human artistic achievement, which the composer made a kind of compendium of some of his finest choral-orchestral music. It wasn’t performed until a century after his death, and even then and for decades later, those performances buried most of its beauty beneath bloated, Romantic-style choirs and orchestras and anachronistic tunings that obscured Bach’s magnificent music.

Now you can hear one of music’s most magnificent monuments performed on the authentic instruments and in the tunings the composer himself envisioned, and by historically informed musicians who know how to play it in period style. Though in order to fill the capacious Trinity Cathedral, the 60-member Trinity choir will be much larger than what Bach probably envisioned, with a 24-piece orchestra to match, it’s still a lot closer to Bach than the bad old days.

The Byrd Ensemble: travelers in time.

Speaking of baroque masterpieces, PBO violinist Adam LaMotte (with his 1730 Italian fiddle), classical guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan, and string players from the Astoria Festival Orchestra play Bach, Vivaldi and Boccherini faves, plus later music by John Cage and Vineet Shende, at Astoria’s Grace Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon. Even older music is on the program at the Byrd Ensemble’s concert Sunday afternoon at Portland’s St. Stephen Catholic Church. But along with music by medieval (Hildegard of Bingen) and English Renaissance (Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, John Sheppard) masters, the excellent Seattle based choir also sings contemporary sounds by Arvo Part (plenty more of his music coming next week, BTW), Eric Whitacre, and John Tavener — all influenced by the oldest form of music, chant.

Marilyn Keller performs with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble.

Old events come alive through new music in From Maxville to Vanport: A Celebration of Oregon’s Black History, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s concert of original songs and video inspired by the stories of the multicultural populations of two 20th century Oregon cities. PJCE’s artistic team interviewed  people connected to those African American communities in constructing their artistic representation of this under-represented aspect of Oregon history. This collection of songs by Portland composer Ezra Weiss with lyricist S. Renee Mitchell and vocalist Marilyn Keller performing with the PJCE is accompanied by short films by filmmaker Kalimah Abioto Thursday at Eastern Oregon University’s Groth Hall, Friday at Enterprise’s OK Theater, and Saturday at Baker Heritage Museum.

Video by Takafumi Uehara accompanies Jack Gabel’s ‘Oregon Bird Sketches’ at AL Dancers’ Portland concerts Saturday and Sunday.

Those of us craving new music this week have a few options, like Third Angle’s shows Thursday and Friday and Bright Moments’s performance with Camas High Choir, both described in my ArtsWatch preview. Another opportunity appears at, of all things, a dance performance: Agnieszka Laska Dancers 15th anniversary shows Saturday and Sunday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy, 1615 SW 5th Ave. Along with music by the great 20th century Polish composers Gorecki and Lutoslawski and more, the concert features Jack Gabel’s Oregon Bird Sketches, inspired by our local avians. The two I’ve heard at Cascadia Composers concerts have been as charming and attractive as anything veteran Portland composer written in years, and this performance augments the music with video by Takafumi Uehara. Along with the dancers, performers include Resonance Ensemble singing Gorecki and two earlier Gabel compositions and the excellent Eugene piano-vocal team of Paul Safar and Nancy Wood.

Jaap Blonk performs Tuesday in Portland. Photo: Etang Chen.

Vocal Music

The fascinating Dutch sound poet, composer, and improviser Jaap Blonk returns to Oregon to perform his unique sound poetry as well as classic works by Kurt Schwitters, Hugo Ball, and others Tuesday at Portland’s Passages Bookshop, 1223 NE ML King Blvd.


Shi Li sings at a pair of Portland Opera performances this week.

Much more conventional vocal music is on Keller Auditorium stage Saturday at Portland Opera’s Big Night Concert. Director George Manahan, known elsewhere for helming performances of exciting new music, instead here leads soloists, orchestra, and chorus in opera’s greatest hits by Verdi, Wagner, Mozart, Rossini, and Bizet, plus a few Broadway favorites.

One of those resident artists, bass Shi Li, sings more unusual fare in his solo recital Tuesday at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. Pianist Nicholas Fox accompanies the rising young singer in lots of Schubert, plus music by Chinese composers and by Barber, Copland, Faure, Gluck, Stradella, Giordani, Rachmaninoff and more.

Music and Film

The Vancouver Symphony plays music from science fiction and fantasy films Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Hall. And three short silent films by Stacey Steers (all involving early 20th century celebrities) mix with new, live music composed and performed by Ashland percussion duo Caballito Negro Saturday night’s Ashland Independent Film Festival performance.

Chamber music fans have several choices. Beaverton Symphony goes back to its small-band roots by breaking up into a series of chamber ensembles for Sunday afternoon’s concert at Village Baptist Church. Trio Adrato (veteran Oregon musicians oboist Victoria Racz, cellist Dale Tolliver, pianist Colleen Adent) plays chamber music by Haydn, Frank Bridge and more Sunday at Vancouver’s Magenta Theater. Famed French flutist Julien Beaudiment plays a recital Friday night at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall.
Got any other musical recommendations for this week, old or new? Tell us all about them in the comments section below.

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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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