MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!

Cancellations, confirmations, and quarantine playlists

Bad news, everyone! No, it’s not quite the end of the world, at least not yet–and that’s probably the scariest thing of all. It seems we never quite hit Full Disaster, and if the Great Malthusian Dieoff really is underway it’s apparently content with taking its sweet time with us. Instead of a full-blown crisis, we get a series of morally debilitating crises which drain us but don’t ever amount to much (except for the people directly impacted by these subapocalyptic crises, of course, but they’re usually poor, old, foreign, or some other shade of invisible).

Not that we’re wishing for a full-blown crisis: but our minds sure go there in a hurry, don’t they? You’ve seen all the memes by now: on some level of our social psyche we find it easier to hoard toilet paper than to wash our hands more often. We don’t like the small, rational fixes. We like to dream big, and we like to nightmare big too. We like to panic. We like to ostrich.

That, paradoxically, is why the present author has been so gratified to see the concert cancellation notices pouring in. Denial and panic are two sides of the same apocalyptic coin, a rejection of measured responses in favor of whichever easy option is more comfortable (note that neither denial nor panic require much effort). Instead, everybody’s actually talking about it, weighing options and doing their own research, grappling with their social responsibilities, and coming to their own conclusions in the old contest between “safety is job one” and “the show must go on.”

And (at risk of trying to gadfly too high) this shouldn’t even be the problem of arts administrators. Other countries are closing down their schools and public buildings, rolling out medical teams, managing an officially-declared pandemic that stands every chance of becoming another of these debilitating subapocalyptic crises, the kind that terrorizes everyone and leaves a massive trail of casualties in its wake but doesn’t bring the whole system crashing all the way down.

Maybe next time!

“What doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger,” said Nietzsche after a long illness that nearly destroyed him and certainly made him stronger before eventually killing him. We all know perfectly well why that old line, like so many of Freddie’s wittiest witticisms, is actually clever bullshit: sometimes what doesn’t kill you outright simply damages you instead. Sometimes destruction happens slowly, unevenly, unpredictably. It’s a matter of greyshades and non-binaries, as any spider who’s lost a few legs can tell you.

So where does that leave us on this fine spring day full of wonders and horrors? Well, for starters, let’s catch you up on who’s cancelled or rescheduled their upcoming events, and which concerts are still going forward as of Wednesday, March 11th, around supper time.

Note as of March 12th, around brunch time: with Governor Brown’s recent announcement of a statewide 250-audient cap on public gatherings, we expect a lot more cancellations and postponements to come in today. Stay tuned–and wash your damn hands!

We’d also like to share our favorite classical melodies for effective handwashing (hard to beat Verdi) and other rainy day type activities you can use to occupy yourself while catching up with Naomi Klein and phonebanking for the political candidate of your choice. Heck, we might even throw in a Caroline Shaw playlist.

Canceled, rescheduled, deferred, postponed, livestreamed

Speaking of Shaw, we she recently learned that her Portland Residency, which started last week with Third Angle, has come to an end. These two shows were literally the only expected interruption to our social distancing. Time to wash up and put on some coffee.

Note as of Thursday, March 12th, about tea time: All Oregon Symphony concerts through early April have been officially postponed.

As for Third Angle, it looks like their next Wine Wednesday show is still on for next Odinstag, the 18th. We’ve been eagerly awaiting this one, and resent having to stay home washing our hands while local composer Lisa Neher pairs her mezzo voice with Valdine Mishkin’s cello down at the glassy Pullman Wine Bar (capacity: well under 250) by the glassy Convention Center. We’ll be especially pissed when we hear later that she sang a bunch of her own music, another homegrown Caroline. And, like all the 3A Wine shows, it’s brief and it’s early; 5:30-6:30 and you’re out in time to get dinner on your way up to Mississippi Studios for Roselit Bone.

That’s right, dear reader, we’re doubly bummed about next Wednesday. Usually you have to pick and choose between your “classical” shows and your “popular” shows, but every now and then you can catch a matinee like Neher-Mishkin and then scoot to a late night concert with Portland’s favorite gothic outlaw country octet. I mean, if you’re going out, you might as well go out. Now that Shaw’s leaving town (we’re sorry!) our lone quarantine pass is free for 3A and RB. But with Mississippi canceling and postponing other shows, we wouldn’t be surprised if this one gets moved too.

Speaking of composer-violinist-vocalist triple threats–after seeing local composer-violinist-vocalist Joe Kye with Resonance Ensemble last week we immediately started looking for our next fix. Bingo, sort of: Kye’s show at New Expressive Works on Southeast Belmont (where you just missed Caroline Shaw). The “Otherness: Togetherness” collaboration with visual installation artist Horatio Law and taiko ensemble Unit Souzou will now be livestreamed on the 21st. From Unit Souzou’s recent announcement:

We are moving forward with our OTHERNESS: TOGETHERNESS show. However, in light of public health concerns, we are changing the format to a LIVESTREAM for one showing. You will be able to experience the performance from the safety of your respective homes, and we will not be allowing in-person admission to the performance space. More detailed information will be shared shortly.

Meanwhile, superstar modified Pierrot ensemble Eighth Blackbird canceled both their shows at Portland State today. Oregon Chorale and the Maybelle Community Singers (whom we last heard with Gabriel Kahane on his emergency shelter intake form) have postponed their “Of Sound Mind” concerts, previously scheduled for the 14th and 15th at First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Portland. We were quite touched to see this note on their event page a few days ago:

In an effort to connect our community with resources, this concert will also host providers and representatives from the Hawthorn Walk-In Center, HomeWatch Caregivers, and much more.

Typical choristers, thinking about human needs. It was another of those “measured solutions” we talked about earlier–and we applaud them for updating their decision in light of recent developments.

We recently heard the national news that the SXSW and Coachella concert festivals have both been rescheduled, which is a mixed blessing for the present author: now we have until October to find our way out to the California desert for Danny Elfman’s solo show.

Closer to home, several local events have recently been postponed or cancelled, with more coming in all the time. Portland Youth Philharmonic livestreamed its fundraiser yesterday morning. Chamber Music Northwest postponed two upcoming concerts featuring incoming Artistic Directors Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim, moving them from March to late May and early June. Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra just cancelled its Concert for Hope.

Cappella Romana’s Divine Tchaikovsky has been canceled in Seattle, but the professional corps of singers will perform the concert as a livestream from Portland on March 14th at 7:30. Considering what this choir has done with digital acoustic environments, we expect this to be one of the highlights of The Quarantine.

Several of the Indian classical concerts at the HECSA Balaji Temple which we mentioned last week have been canceled. Hopefully Zakir Hussain will still come tablatize Portland at the end of the month.

The next concert in the Extradition Recital Series was–in co-founder Matt Hannafin’s memorable phrase–“scuttled” when visiting percussionists Tim Feeney and Greg Stuart had their Pacific Northwest Tour disrupted by outbreaks. Hannafin is also the source of this handy handwashing PSA:

Courtesy of Extradition Series impresario Matt Hannafin.

Fear No Music’s March 23rd “Just Us” concert was canceled earlier today, and Artistic Director Kenji Bunch had this to say:

As you know, in the space where our lives intersect with new music written by composers living among us today, we at Fear No Music don’t play it safe. Part of our mission is to challenge traditional notions of whose music belongs in the concert hall, and whose stories should be told.

However, in the face of a serious public health event of global magnitude, we’re not quite so reckless. We respectfully listen to the experts in the field, and in doing so, we see no way we can justify continuing with business as usual.

The well-being of our musicians, audience, supporters, and the community at large that we serve has to be our top priority, and in this case, the evidence of social distancing as a valuable mitigation technique to fight the spread of COVID-19 is indisputable.

Our personal Patient Zero for this wave of cancellations and postponements was area composer and new music enthusiast Bob Priest, whose March Music Moderne festivals have been the best thing about Portland First Spring for almost a decade. When we got word from Priest last week about the 3M postponement, our uncensored first thought was, “well shit, that’s gonna tip it.”

Stay home

What’s the moral? Find the middle ground between blasé and paranoid. Wash your hands, limit social contact, stay in when you can and go out when you must. And what are you going to do if you’re stuck inside? You could watch that Missy Mazzoli opera you’ve had bookmarked for the last couple years, or you could check into one of the paid classical concert streaming services (Met Opera on Demand and the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall are both excellent, and you can read more about it all on Arts Watch right here, here, here, and here). Or, now’s a great time to catch up on your emails or get really invested in an online game of four-player chess or just clean that damn kitchen.

But I really only have one quarantine recommendation for you, dear reader: make some playlists.

One game that all living composer enthusiasts play is Find All The Single Tracks. It’s a problem unique to fans of contemporary classical, underground hip-hop, French death metal, and other emerging traditions: your favorite artists don’t usually release anything so quaint as “an album,” so you have to hunt down all their various appearances on other artists’ albums.

That’s the norm in contemporary classical music, by the way, and it’s one of our biggest pet peeves: while the decomposers get boxed set after boxed set dedicated solely to their music, living composers generally have to share space on releases by new music soloists and ensembles. There’s nothing wrong with sharing space (consider Bang on a Can), but it’s the album equivalent of the concert hall’s Fanfare Zone. “These living composers can’t carry a whole album,” the marketeers reason, “so we’ll put em on a compilation with a dozen other living composers.”

(This has all been changing rapidly, and good riddance to bad habits. Last year Attacca Quartet released an album of nothing but Shaw’s music, and this year they won a Grammy for their troubles.)

Suppose you want to hear an hour’s worth of chamber music composed by, say, Mazzoli. You’ve listened to Vespers for a New Dark Age and Song from the Uproar approximately a thousand times each, and you want more. What do you do? You make a playlist, gathering up the various five-to-ten-minute compositions Mazzoli has left scattered around other peoples’ albums.

Pluck Vespers for Violin from Jennifer Koh’s Limitless and Still Life with Avalanche from Eighth Blackbird’s Meanwhile, add Death Valley Junction from Jasper String Quartet’s Unbound and Magic with Everyday Objects from Now Ensemble’s Awake, then top it off with Orizzonte from Lisa Moore’s The Stone People, Tooth & Nail from Nadia Sirota’s Baroque, and Vesper Sparrow from Roomful of Teeth’s Render. That’s just under an hour of Mazzoli, one album’s worth, spread across seven different releases. It’s not even everything (we left off Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) on purpose), just a tidy little DIY ersatz album from a composer who really ought to have a discography more like Andrew Bird’s.

Yes, dear reader, that’s what we new music nuts have to do while you’re busy comparison shopping the annual crop of Beethoven Cycles. And it’s totally worth it.

Here’s another type of playlist you can make (even the decomposers can join in): remix the movements of multi-movement works. Put the four movements of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in reverse order. Put the Boulez Complete Webern on shuffle and see if you can tell the difference. String together all the adagios from every Mozart symphony–or just from the last dozen or so (don’t try this with Mahler).

Or, choose a single composition–a short piece, or a movement from a suite–and make a playlist with as many different performances and interpretations as you can find. I recommend using Bach for this experiment: the music of Our God grants access to everyone, from Pablo Casals to Wendy Carlos, from Leopold Stokowski to the Swingle Singers.

That’s all for this week, O Beloved Oregon. Wash your damn hands!

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