MusicWatch Weekly: Pacific voices

Choral concerts featuring contemporary sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is hosting the Beijing Queer Chorus — China’s first LGBTQ choir — in a week-long community residency that culminates in a pair of public concerts.

Beijing Queer Chorus performs Friday and Saturday at Reed College.

Friday and Saturday’s Pacific Voices shows at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium feature both original and traditional music from across the Pacific region, including Mexico, Ecuador, New Zealand (a Maori traditional song), Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, the Philippines, a Taiwanese aboriginal tune, and of course songs from China and Oregon. PGMC will return the favor with a tour of China this summer.

Another choral tradition comes to Oregon with Cappella Romana’s performances of The Akáthistos Hymn Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. Composed for the fine Portland vocal ensemble, British composer/priest/conductor Ivan Moody’s 1998 setting of the ancient poem to the virgin Mary (which he’s coming from London to conduct here) combines Byzantine chant melodies, Russian choral textures, and original tunes in a solemn, soaring and ultimately rousing rendition.

The Oregon Chorale celebrates home and family in its concerts in Beaverton Saturday and Hillsboro on Sunday. The contemporary choral program includes Eat Your Vegetables, a fun three-movement piece (one titled “Aversion to Carrots”) by Seattle composer John Muehleisen, whose music is getting a lot of Oregon play lately, plus other contemporary music by Eric Whitacre, Lee Hoiby, Sydney Guillaume, Dan Forrest and more.

The premiere of Muehleisen’s Pleaides’ Path highlights Consonare Chorale’s St. Paddy’s day concert at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny St. Along with the Seattle composer’s new setting of a text by Consonare music director Georgina Philippson, the program does include the obligatory Irish reference (“Little Potato”), as well as The Peace of Wild Things (composed Jake Runestad, one of today’s hottest choral composers, whom you’ll be hearing more about here shortly), works by an Estonian composer named Pärt — no, not that one, but Pärt Uusberg — and more.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Whitacre’s music, along with compositions by Northwest native Morten Lauridsen, the late American composer David Maslanka, Williametta Spencer and more at Clark College Concert Band and Concert Choir’s free concert Saturday at the college. On Wednesday, the college orchestra’s concert features one of the area’s finest singers, Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson, in Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling, plus music by Darius Milhaud, Paul Dukas, Rossini and more.

Symphonic Sounds

Speaking of symphonic music, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays a new Concerto for Chamber Orchestra by the winner of this year’s winner of PCSO/Cascadia Composers Composition Competition, Sean Osborn. The concerts, Friday at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Sunday at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theatre, also include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor with soloist Sara Davis Buechner.

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Music by another contemporary Oregon composer is on the bill at Springfield High School Auditorium Sunday when Eugene Springfield Community Orchestra teams up with the Delgani String Quartet to play the world premiere of Eugene composer John Hidalgo’s The Five Virtues. The Delganis are also playing their own concert Friday at Astoria’s Liberty Theatre Friday, but the website doesn’t say what they’re playing. No matter, with this conscientious ensemble, you know it’ll be played well.

On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, the Eugene Symphony plays American composer Michael Daugherty’s dramatic 2015 cello concerto Tales of Hemingway. Each movement evokes episodes from the author’s stories. A WWI vet heals himself through immersion in a Michigan wilderness; an American on a suicide mission to help the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War (including a tolling bell); an old fisherman struggles against wild natural forces. In the Spanish-inflected final movement, a disillusioned, Lost Generation bohemian American expat seeks inspiration from bullfighting and the famous running of the bulls.

Commissioned and premiered by the Nashville Symphony, led by former Eugene Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, Daugherty’s colorful concerto, which won three Grammy Awards last year, continues the composer’s long string of likable works inspired by American culture and history, from Superman, Elvis and Liberace to the Brooklyn Bridge and Mt. Rushmore. One of the world’s finest cellists, Zuill Bailey, who played in the premier and recording, is the soloist in the concert, which also includes a pair of Sibelius’s most popular creations: his fifth symphony and Sad Waltz, plus that quintessential piece of 20th century Cuban music, Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña.

Still another big concerto highlights the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Friday in Salem and Saturday-Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Along with Brahms’s Violin Concerto, the concert includes a symphony by American Romantic composer Howard Hanson and a watery tone poem by Dvorak.

Chamber Music

Longtime Portlanders may recall influential Lewis & Clark College music professor and composer Vincent McDermott. After retiring from the college in 1998, he spent most of the rest of his life living in his beloved Indonesia, where he died last year at age 82. On Saturday, in the college’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, a concert celebrates his legacy with performances of music written by McDermott, Lou Harrison, and more. McDermott co-founded the school’s renowned world music program, developed courses on the music of East and Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and the Middle East, and directed performance classes in African marimba, Ghanaian drumming, singing, and dance, Indian sitar, tabla, and vina, Japanese koto and shamisen; and Javanese gamelan. Accordingly, the concert includes Ghanaian traditional music, Hindustani music, Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan (which he helped bring to Oregon), art songs, and more.

Keyboard fans might check out Albanian pianist Redi Llupa, who on Thursday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall plays the complete piano sonatas of the first African American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, George Walker. On Sunday, the ChamberMusic@Beall series brings the excellent pianist Simone Dinnerstein to play Bach’s anti insomniac Goldberg Variations on a modern piano. To hear music from that period and before on the instruments it was actually written for, check out harpsichordist Elisabeth Wright’s “Celebrating the Early Keyboard” program Friday at Reed College Performing Arts Building, Rm 320.


Simone Dinnerstein | Recording Goldberg from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Finally, the Vancouver Symphony’s Chamber Music concert Sunday at Kiggins Theatre has a seasonally appropriate Celtic theme, including music by Irish composer Charles Stanford, arrangements of Irish tunes by Percy Grainger, a set of new pieces by contemporary composer Shannon Heaton for Irish and classical flutes, and famous Irish songs like “My Wild Irish Rose,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” and the inevitable lament set to the tune of “London Derriere.”

Got more music recommendations, Celtic or non? Please let our readers know 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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