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MusicWatch Weekly: piano playground

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Spring break may have broken Oregon’s music calendar this week, but there’s still something to celebrate. Portland is celebrating the international Piano Day again. Last year, Portland Piano International brought the worldwide event, which was started by German pianist Nils Frahm (who happens to be coming to Portland this week too!) in 2015, to Oregon for the first time. This year, it’s sponsoring  performances at a half dozen locations in the metro area. Pianists of diverse ages and skill levels signed up to play pianos at each spot, and asked friends to sponsor them, with all funds raised going to support PPI’s valuable education programs. Check the website for the ebony and ivories nearest you.

There’ll be ten — count ’em! — pianos onstage at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when Michael Allen Harrison’s annual Ten Grands show returns Saturday night. From Portland cops to prodigy pianists and composers to blues and jazz masters  to renowned players like Tom Grant and the founder himself, a parade of pianists will help raise funds for Harrison’s admirable Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth in the Northwest.

Speaking of Frahm, the visionary composer is indeed performing Tuesday at Revolution Hall, but the show’s been sold out for weeks. You can and should check out his latest, splendid album, though, or really any of them.

Nils Frahm is playing in Portland but if you don’t have a ticket already, you can participate in the Piano Day he created. Photo: Alexander Schneider.

You missed out on Hamilton tickets in Portland and Seattle — but you can catch the Hamilton of the ‘70s when A Chorus Line arrives this weekend at Eugene’s Hult Center. The 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (which also scored nine Tony awards including Best Musical) was the longest running show in Broadway history till that time. ACL set the template for many of the most successful musicals that followed. Marvin Hamlisch’s sparkling score, one of the most memorable ever composed for a musical, still moves the heart, as does the story of 17 veteran dancers auditioning for spots on a Broadway chorus line just before they age out of a tough business.

If Patrick McCulley’s ArtsWatch review of Moon Hooch’s most recent Oregon appearance set your antennae a-quiver, you’ve got another chance to catch the incendiary horn-and-percussion trio on their latest tour, which alights at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom Thursday.

Anglophiles will titter politely at the news that Portland State University faculty baritone Harry Baechtel, the SF Bay-area based historically informed ensemble Sylvestris Quartet, and pianist Michael Seregow will perform early 20th century pastoral settings of English poetry.  Friday’s concert at PSU’s Lincoln Hall includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge, a placid 1909 setting of six poems from A. E. Housman’s evocative A Shropshire Lad, and American composer Samuel Barber’s ardent setting of Matthew Arnold’s haunting Dover Beach, plus Eddie Elgar’s a minor Piano Quintet, written in the wake of what was then thought to be the Great War, and of course you can’t play Barber’s chamber music without throwing That Famous Movement from his string quartet.

Finally, Saturday offers a feliz chance to hear a wide range of Brazilian music at the tenth anniversary of the Old Church’s annual Sounds of Brazil PDX show. As always, the focus is on choro, the rootsy Brazilian analog of American jazz, conceived from a different but equally enchanting mix of African, European, and indigenous American influences, typically played on flute, mandolin, clarinet, or violin with various acoustic guitars and pandeiro drum. But the show presents other classic Brazilian sounds, from bossa nova to Brazilian jazz to samba and more), and features several acts, including solo guitar, guitar and mandolin duo, piano and guitar duo, and ensemble.

Got more musical recommendations? Slap those suckers in the comments section below.

Piano Day 2018 from Portland Piano Int’l / SOLO on Vimeo.

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Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for 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, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, 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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