MusicWatch Weekly: time of the season

As autumn approaches, Oregon orchestras and ensembles play seasonal sounds and more

Yes, the Zombies no doubt played their iconic 1967 hit at Monday’s show at Revolution Hall, but there’s more seasonal music in the air this week. One of those iconic Portland fall traditions is to bring the family and some blankets and marvel at the annual cyclonic return of the migratory Vaux’s Swifts to that chimney at Northwest Portland’s Chapman Elementary School. In their season-opening Song of the Swifts shows, FearNoMusic brings one of New York’s best known new music pianists, Kathleen Supové to play music that touches on themes of migration — and not just by birds.

Kathleen Supové.

Musicians and other artists have joined the response to Republican politicization of immigration, which turned human suffering into human tragedy. For the last year or so, the Portland new music ensemble has been programming contemporary classical music that squarely or obliquely addresses some of today’s most pressing social issues. This time it’s migration. Supové, who grew up in Portland, plays three world premieres (by Portland’s own Jay Derderian, her partner and well known composer Randall Woolf, and Paula Matthusen), composed for Sunday’s pop up concert, which happens a few blocks from the Chapman School chimney that has long been a gathering place for the birds, and for Portlanders who love watching them circle, cavort and finally take the plunge. The performance also features video and visual art.

Those three premieres repeat at Monday’s concert at the Old Church, which also pairs Supové with FNM musicians in migration and/or bird-related music by young Portland composer Katie Palka, the great Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Michi Wiancko, and Takashi Yoshimatsu.

Tomas Cotik performs with Portland Chamber Orchestra.

• As we head into fall, Portland Chamber Orchestra combines the most famous Four Seasons (Vivaldi’s familiar violin concertos) with an equally colorful 20th century successor. In The Eight Seasons, Portland State prof and Astor Piazzolla expert Tomas Cotik joins the ensemble in his fellow Argentine’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which uses Vivaldi’s model and Piazzolla’s own pulsating nuevo tango music to paint a vibrant musical portrait of his bustling hometown. The Sunday afternoon show at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel also features longtime Oregon coast resident Ernest Bloch’s moving Prayer for Cello and Strings (with more Bloch coming next week) and Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies.

• The Oregon Symphony opens its classical season Sunday with maybe the world’s starriest soprano, Renée Fleming, and it’s a credit to both that instead of the usual familiar arias, the concert presents an attractive, substantive program of 20th century classical and theater music along with Richard Strauss’s 1888 tone poem Don Juan. The big news is Kevin Puts’s orchestral song cycle, Letters from Georgia, composed for Fleming in 2016. Puts, a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s one of the most listener friendly of contemporary classical composers, sets five letters the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe wrote to her future husband Alfred Stieglitz or her close friend Anita Politzer that describe New Mexican desert beauty, her own feelings about love and music, and more. What I’ve heard would certainly appeal to Aaron Copland fans, and there’s actual Copland (tunes from his opera The Tender Land) on the program too, as well as a pair of stirring American overtures: Samuel Barber’s 1931 overture to The School for Scandal, and Leonard Bernstein’s inevitable, and irresistible, Candide overture, plus show tunes from Sting, Kander & Ebb, Meredith Willson, Stephen Sondheim, and more — that rare star program that would be almost as appealing even without the star’s celebrity name and talent.

Renée Fleming and Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar take their bows.

• While the Oregon Symphony goes mostly American, Portland Columbia Symphony trends Russian in its Friday and Sunday shows at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater. There’s yet another seasonal number, “Autumn” from Glazunov’s The Seasons, Rachmaninoff’s big second piano concerto starring Robert Henry, and a suite from Stravinsky’s enchanting The Firebird ballet score.

• Rachmaninoff takes center stage — or is that altar? — at this weekend’s Cappella Romana concerts Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, respectively. The superb choir sings one of the 20th century’s choral masterpieces, All-Night Vigil, (sometimes called Vespers) along with psalms and hymn settings by Rachmaninoff’s Russian predecessors, placing the composer’s music in the context of a more complete Orthodox Vigil.

Singer Glenn Miller.

The concert stars… well, let’s reprise Bruce Browne’s description of last year’s appearance with the ensemble.

“For this concert, Cappella Romana brought in one solo ringer, a singer whose basso profundo voice and musical artistry is coveted worldwide. Guest choral basso? In the opera world, guest sopranos and tenors are glorified, but guest basses in the choral world (or guest anyones) … not so much.

But Glenn Miller (no, not that Glenn Miller) is different. Sought after by choral groups far and wide for his contrabass-like low register, and first class musicianship, he has sung some dozen or more performances – and recordings – of the Rachmaninoff Vespers alone, over the past decade. Renowned choral conductor Shaw hired him often to fill in the low end, and that’s where I first knew him. He’s also sung with Eric Erickson, Conspirare, and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, among other stellar professional choral groups and has recorded on several labels. (For a kick in the low Bb, YouTube “Glenn Miller Basso recital.”) His day job is organist and choir director at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, outside Detroit. When we got reacquainted at a Portland cafe before his performance with Cappella Romana, Miller told me has recently helped to form a new group, Audivi, with Jeff Daumer of Yale; they’ve released a new disc, The Stolen Child by Scott Perkins. He is so modest and self-deprecating, you wouldn’t know his capabilities, except his vocal quality is that of the voice of God.”

Jazz picks

Al Di Meola shreds on Wednesday in Portland. Photo: Alessio Belloni.

• Guitar genius Al Di Meola, who performs Wednesday at Portland’s Aladdin Theater, injected a powerful blend of global rhythms into the jazz-rock fusions of the 1970s. Starting with his early appearances with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever band, the New Jersey native has blended flamenco, Latin (especially tango and Brazilian sounds) and Middle Eastern strains into various contexts including his famous guitar deities trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, work with rock stars (Santana, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and more) and recordings with most of jazz’s top stars. At 63, he continues to explore new territories by interweaving nylon string guitar with Les Paul electric, and crafting hooky, relatively concise compositions (including a strong Moroccan element) that place his virtuosity in the service of the songs instead of the other way around, making this a show for general jazz fans and guitar geeks alike.

Kneebody performed at PDX Jazz Festival last year. Photo: methodman13.

• Tuesday’s PDX Jazz double bill at Portland’s Star Theater features Kneebody (read Patrick McCulley’s review of their last Portland show and Angela Allen’s interview) and Donny McCaslin, a rising jazz star on tenor sax whose audience expanded when David Bowie (a one-time jazzer himself) tapped him and his band for his final Blackstar album. Like Kneebody, McCaslin’s been heading in fusion directions since; his new Blow album and band includes a singer, proggy-to-punky rhythms, and a pop feel.

• Italian violin virtuoso Luca Ciarla has worked with artists from Joshua Bell to Luciano Berio, and in both “classical” and jazz settings. His Sunday afternoon show at Portland’s Old Church with SolOrchestra features Ciarla’s unusual arrangements of traditional Italian folk tunes, music from the Mediterranean area and original compositions.

More peri-autumnal musical recommendations? Especially anything related to Oregon-born national Talk Like a Pirate Day? Lay ‘em on us in the comments.

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