MusicWatch Weekly: spring awakenings

As a new season arrives, concerts awaken Oregonians to stories about gender, migration, cross cultural encounters, and more

As 21st century America belatedly recognizes that gender isn’t always a binary phenomenon, artists have increasingly illuminated its fluid, spectral reality, as Oregonians have seen in recent Time Based Art Festival performances, last fall’s Contralto show by Third Angle, and more. Now comes the most produced contemporary opera in North America since its 2014 premiere. As One is inspired by the true story of its scenic designer and co-librettist. Kimberly Reed became the first commercially released transgender filmmaker with her breakthrough film Prodigal Sons, which chronicled her journey from star Montana high school quarterback to award winning film director. In this chamber opera co-created by American composer Laura Kaminsky and renowned co-librettist Mark Campbell, two singers tell the coming of age story of the fictional trans protagonist, Hannah — one playing before her gender transformation, one after. Her journey is depicted against the backdrop of Reed’s sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic imagery, projected on five screens. Stay tuned for my profile of Reed and Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-March 30, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• More theatrical music comes from Light Opera of Portland (LOoP), whose original, romantic musical We Met in Moscow is based upon events in the lives of Ralph Bunch, a professor emeritus from Portland State University, and his wife Eleanora Andreevna, head of cybernetics at the Kremlin in the 1990s. Portland composer John Vergin did his own treatment of the story just a few months ago, and now writer/lyricist Dennis Britten and composer Kevin Lay give the musical treatment to this Oregon/Russia love story.
Friday-March 29, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

• Over the past few years, Portland classical music organizations have belatedly begun to redress the inexcusable gender imbalance on their concert programs by finally including a few works by female composers. Now, Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic does something similar for women’s words as well as music. Because Of Her, We Make Songs features musical settings (by female and male composers) of text by women poets from around the world (Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Elinor Wylie, Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Lowell, Gabriela Mistral), including songs by the excellent Northwester composer Alex Shapiro, Ricky Ian Gordon, Florence Price, Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, and more. Oregon’s 2019 Poetry Out Loud Champion and Runner-Up, Belise Nishimwe of St. Mary’s Academy and Nicole Coronado of Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, also perform.
Monday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

To celebrate the Portland premiere of ‘As One’, Portland Opera commissioned award-winning photographer Gia Goodrich to create a series of portraits and interviews celebrating 11 transgender individuals in Portland’s community. Portrait from “As I Am” exhibition by Gia Goodrich.

FearNoMusic is also the house band for Cascadia Composers’s 10th anniversary concert. Until the group arrived, ambitious Northwest composers who wanted others to hear their original contemporary classical music usually had to take an academic job and hope for the occasional performance by students, or move to New York or other cultural cosmopoli. Since forming a decade ago, the organization has provided Portland and other Northwest composers showcases for their music (10 concerts this year alone, over 500 new works and 100 world premieres over a decade), networking, mutual support and info, even exchanges with composers in other countries. Now the largest and most active local group in the National Association of Composers/USA, Cascadia has become a vital part of Portland’s creative music scene. This 10th anniversary concert includes music for percussion, voice, strings, flute, and piano written by the organization’s founding composers: David Bernstein, Tomas Svoboda, Greg Steinke, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Dan Senn, Bonnie Miksch, and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, whose styles range widely across the spectrum of 21st century classical music.
Friday, Lincoln Hall Room 75, Portland State University. Streaming here.

Svoboda and Gabel in 1999. Photo: Françoise Simoneau.

Orchestral Music

Today’s weapon of choice in humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our preferred means of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was the anguished central figure in Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr. Atomic: American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Based on Richard Rhodes’ book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the story of a great scientist’s Faustian bargain seemed a great subject for contemporary opera by one of my favorite composers, but the overlong world premiere I saw in San Francisco failed to ignite onstage, even when choreographer Lucinda Childs sent dancers sprinting across the stage for no apparent reason in a desperate attempt to inject some action to dispel the dramatic inertia. What did work was Adams’s tense, urgent music, inspired by everything from minimalism to the science fiction movie sounds of the 1950s. He later assembled its best music into a symphony, which the Oregon Symphony performed last month, and which the Eugene Symphony plays Thursday, along with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and another Romantic classic, Brahms’s passionate Violin Concerto, starring rising prodigy Julian Rhee.
Thursday, Hult Center’s Silva Hall, Eugene.

See and hear “Coraline” Friday with the Oregon Symphony.

• Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, it performs Bruno Coulais’ score to Portland-based Laika Studios’ delightfully dark Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman story, Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall, while the film is projected on the giant screen for its tenth anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday, the orchestra then welcomes award winning singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers who ever lived (and a sparkling, influential jazz pianist to boot), Nat King Cole, with some hits from his late daughter Natalie too. And the rebranded Newport Symphony Orchestra at the Ocean plays piano concertos by Clara Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev (starring Amy Yang), plus music by the taken-too-soon French composer Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy (Spring Rounds), and George Gershwin’s ever-jolly An American in Paris Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center.

Chamber Music

Speaking of film music, German late Romantic composer Richard Strauss wrote a whole lot more music than the familiar five-note opener used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey decades after he died. 45th Parallel Universe’s Helios Camerata plays some of his theater music (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), opera tunes arranged for string sextet (Capriccio) and a rarely heard Double concerto for clarinet and bassoon.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Helios Camerata plays Strauss Thursday.

• In 2017, Eugene’s Delgani Quartet played Portland composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s blistering sixth string quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich that left the audience cheering. Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, it fully captured the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation. An ideal match of magnificent music, appropriate acoustic, and committed performers, it was one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. They’re playing it again this weekend, along with earlier Czech music by Dvorak (his final quartet), and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada, and other forward looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust.
Saturday, Christian Science Church, 935 High St SE, Salem, and Sunday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

• There’s plenty of big-band Bach coming at this summer’s Oregon Bach Festival, but this weekend, Oregon Bach Collegium play some of J. S. Bach’s smaller-scale sounds. Michael Sand plays one of Bach’s intricate solo violin partitas, then joins harpsichordist Margret Gries for a sonata. University of Oregon early music specialist Marc Vanscheeuwijck and his rare five-string cello joins Gries in another Bach sonata for viola da gamba, then the trio converge in still another.
Sunday afternoon, Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard, Eugene.

• If you want to venture beyond Bach and the other Baroque Big Four we hear so much, Musica Maestrale brings Seattle recorder virtuoso Miyo Aoki to join fellow recorder and viola da gamba player Polly Gibson, and MM director, theorbo master (that really big lute) and sometime Portlander in Baroque Italian and English music spanning two centuries by less well known early Baroque stars like Pandolfi, Uccelini, Geminiani, Locke, and more.
Saturday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Jazz and More

Grammy winning composer/drummer Antonio Sanchéz studied classical piano at his native Mexico’s National University, then matriculated at two of the finest US music education institutions: Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. Since his move to New York in 1999, he’s become a major figure on the jazz scene, collaborating with some of today’s top jazz artists like Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Joshua Redman, with a side career in film scoring (including Birdman) and an electronica-and-drums project. As an immigrant (he named his band Migration years before the current crisis), Sanchez has been passionate about Republicans’ recent political attacks on refugees.

“Becoming an American citizen was a very proud moment for me,” Sánchez says. “I’ve been in this country for almost 25 years and I truly believe it’s a unique country of immigrants of different races, backgrounds and religions that can ultimately coexist. Donald Trump has agitated a false, misguided sense of nationalism that has slammed minorities’ backs against the wall. His constant conspiracy theories about voter fraud are nothing but a plan to implement widespread voter suppression.”

Antonio Sanchez & Migration play Portland, Eugene, and Bend.

In Oregon, Sanchez and Migration will play music from his acclaimed new Lines in the Sand. While you can hear the darkness and anger bubbling beneath, much of the music shimmers with the ethereal beauty of the Pat Metheny bands he’s anchored for 17 years, including singer Thana Alexa’s soaring wordless vocals.“This project is about the immigrant who has been forced to flee home out of fear, persecution, war and famine,” he wrote. “This is about the kind of immigrant who is constantly being demonized, ostracized and politicized by a powerful few in the name of a misguided nationalism that is quickly eroding a fundamental quality in human beings: the capacity for feeling love for people that look different than we do and empathy for people that are less fortunate than we are. This album is about them and their journey.”
Thursday, The 1905, Portland; Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Tower Theater, Bend.

Patrick McCulley premiers a new album.

• Edgy saxophonists like Colin Stetson and Roscoe Mitchell are combining the improvisatory tradition of jazz sax with contemporary classical, experimental and avant garde styles (such as minimalism) and techniques (like growling and multi phonics, or producing more than one sound at a time) to create a 21st century sax music. Add Portland’s own sax virtuoso (and sometimes ArtsWatch contributor) Patrick McCulley to that distinguished roster. After several years of wowing listeners at Cascadia Composers concerts, his own wild solo shows, and elsewhere, McCulley is releasing his first full length album of compositions for alto and tenor saxophone, Into The Day, and showcasing them in this release concert. Fans of the Creative Music Guild, jazz sax, and contemporary classical music should all find something dazzle worthy. The show also includes experimental guitar and drum duo Onion Church and Portland flute phenom and multi-instrumentalist John Savage.
8pm Sunday. Turn Turn Turn, 8 NE Killingsworth St. Portland.

• In this hemisphere, we too seldom get to hear two of the loveliest instruments ever made: the santoor and bamboo flute. So when a pair of true masters arrive to play them, you don’t want to miss them. Shri Sandip Chatterjee and Shri Raman Kalyan join rising young percussionists Akshay Anantapadmanabhan and Subrata Bhattacharya in Carnatic music of South India in Kalakendra presenting organization’s latest gem.
Saturday, First Baptist Church, 909 SW 11th Avenue, Portland.

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