MusicWatch Weekly: What (else) is going on?

Last week we talked all about how everyone should be making albums right now, and hopefully you all nodded your heads and muttered, “hell yeah!”

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Last week we talked all about how everyone should be making albums right now, and hopefully you all nodded your heads and muttered, “hell yeah!” Okay, good, we’re happy to have you on board. You know what you can do to make that happen? You can support the artists who will make it happen–by supporting what they’re doing right now.

And what are they doing right now? Well, the big news on our desk today is ARCO-PDX performing Beethoven in Pioneer Square at 6:30 this Saturday evening (tomorrow!), playing for–ahem—whoever happens to be downtown just then, all while keeping distant in local artist Bill Will’s Polka Dot Courthouse Square installation.

ARCO says:

Thanks to technological advances, passersby will be able to enjoy the music either from their seats on the semicircular steps, or by weaving their way through the players for a one-of-a-kind immersive experience!

This is clearly the exact right ensemble for Polka Dot Square: among other things, the “amplified” part helps a ton when you’re not only outside but six feet away from the other players, and the “repertory” part helps when the point of the concert is not about building the repertoire but putting it to use.

See, they’re performing Beethoven’s third piano concerto with soloist David Brokaw (whom you may remember from the outdoor premiere of ARCO founder Mike Hsu’s own piano concerto two years ago), followed by the fatefully familiar Fifth Symphony, and for once we’re not going to badmouth dear old Ludwig: this is exactly the sort of thing we keep him around for. We have refined and deified Beethoven’s music through all those centuries of veneration, making it common and universal, recognizable and surprising, clichéd and profound, mundane and transcendent.

This is the why of classical music.

Turn up

Meanwhile, Resonance Ensemble is still passing around their open letter regarding racial injustice and police brutality–to be honest, that’s a little more active than they usually are during the summer anyways, and we’re happy to keep hearing from them (you can sign that letter right here, by the way). They’ve also been collecting #RequiemStories since Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem was delayed on account of its mounting relevance, and that’s what we want to talk about today.

Geter has already added George Floyd’s name to this massive work for vocalists and orchestra, following Ida B. Wells’ practice of updating the figures in her anti-lynching speeches. What can we do to keep more names from joining that list? And can we maybe work towards, I dunno, making sure we all make it to January, when the work will finally be premiered?

Sponsor

In fact, now that we mention it–how the [censored] can there still be only one performance on the books? Why hasn’t this historic concert–totally not kidding, literally historic concert featuring a local composer, a bunch of local vocal ensembles, and Your Oregon Symphony–long since sold out? Where is the clamour for more dates to be added? Imagine that, Oregon: what if, by the time we get to January, we’ve gone through several months of selling out added concert dates, persistently insisting on more? How long could we keep that going? Could we get them up to, say, a whole week of concerts? Two full weekends?

Same goes for Third Angle New Music’s rescheduled Sanctuaries with Darrell Grant. That one’s at three performances next April, but I’ll bet if we pool our resources and start making noise about it we could compel 3A et alia to turn it into a month-long run–maybe even take the show on the road, turn it into a movie, win a few Grammys, make a Netflix series. At the very least we ought to get a good album out of it (to go with 3A’s long-awaited Elliott Smith album, due this fall).

Obviously it’s not so simple as we’re suggesting: performers have schedules, various budgets have to be drawn up, etcetera ad infinitum. But you know what? Whenever the symphony plays those Hollywood concerts with the live score movie screenings, it seems they almost always sell them out and somehow manage to squeak out a few more performances. Get clamouring, dear reader.

Last thing before we move on: right now you can help Opera Theater Oregon with their Geter commission, a setting of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. OTO Executive Director Lisa Lipton set up this matching commission fund–which means they’re already paying the man for his work, and now we can jump on the bandwagon and also pay him for what looks like a damned exciting project. OTO’s looking to triple the initial investment, which seems reasonable.

You want successful homegrown composers? This is how you get successful homegrown composers.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-pHkQYN541o

Also, Lipton informs us that this project was conceived specifically as a commission to be “premiered as a short operatic multimedia video for streaming.” Having apparently asked the same questions about digital heaven that we’ve been asking, Portland’s favorite independent opera company is skipping right over the whole messy “concert” thing and going straight to video, just like Sturgill Simpson and Beyoncé.

This is as local and living as it gets, folks. What do you think, Oregon? How far can we go to support local Black composers?

Tune in

Speaking of Lisa Lipton, she’s putting on her own concert next Tuesday “at” Polaris Hall–by which I mean she’s bringing her clarinet and several of her friends up to the North Portland theater for a cross-genre broadcast concert of lesser-known classical stuff (Cage, Daugherty, Poulenc); commissioned premieres (Michael Lanci, OTO’s Justin Ralls, drummer-composer Micah Hummel); and even a bit of klezmer.

The band looks pretty damn good, too: Mark Dubac joining Lipton on clarinet; mezzo-soprano Camille Marie Sherman and bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs; pianist Sequoia and guitarist Jim Brunberg; and two of our favorite PSU People, Hummel himself on drums and the mighty George Colligan on piano.

Tomorrow night, Cerimon House (Resonance’s usual host) is doing the same thing with singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Bryn Roberts. This broadcast concert, like Lipton’s, is a ticketed event: you can support the artists directly through the old-fashioned act of paying the cover. There’s even merch for sale, a concert video that will be available in September.

No ticket needed to stream The Old Church’s Masters of Ceremony benefit show next Thursday, the fifth in their new Better Together series starring local musicians–but donations are welcome, with all proceeds going to the artists. The last episode featured Saeeda Wright, Treneti, Wonder Twins, and Kingsley, and it looked a little something like this. Episode five moves right into hip-hop territory with C3 the Guru and superduo Last of a Dying Breed (local rappers Mic Crenshaw and Micah Fletcher). The uncategorizable Amenta Abioto rounds out the program.

The 45th Parallel Universe club has been serving its new Computer God, Kevin, very well lately, with over two months of magically synchronized concerts all over the classical and international map. We’re happy to see local clarinetist-composer James Shields all mixed up in three of their recent livestream concerts: a performance of his own “hypervirtuosic” stuff alongside one of his favorite unknown composers (we all have a few) and, of course, almighty Bach; an all-clarinet “Calamity” show; and the Morton Feldman quintet for clarinet and strings. Other notable concerts have included an international brass quintet; Martha Long’s “Switched On Flute“; founder Greg Ewer playing Kenji Bunch violin duets with current Executive Director Ron Blessinger; and the return of Micah Fletcher with the Pyxis Quartet.

This Friday (tonight!) at 7 pm, the 45|| Portland Social Distancing Ensemble dips into the inexhaustible well of Justly Sanctified Bach: Blessinger, Ewer, Emily Cole, and Shin-Young Kwon will work their way through the Partita No. 1 in B Minor, with each violinist handling a different movement. You can stream that right here.

Come to think of it, this is their first concert in awhile that won’t require Kevin’s services. Will He dream of electric sheep on His night of rest?

The beauty of all this internetting is that you don’t have to watch these weekly concerts at exactly seven o’clock every Friday night (don’t even get us started on the bad old days, when missing the show really meant missing the damn show). But the flip side is that if you don’t tune in, you’ll fall ever further behind, amassing a pile of excellent musical performances to catch up on Some Day, just like your laundry and your debts.

But the flip side of that is this: these musicians are not only beta-testing the most important musical invention since staff paper, they’re building a database of quarantine-era performances, blurring the distinction between “think globally” and “act locally.” The PSDE is thus both timely and time capsule–which is a pretty good way to Compete with Lenny.

The only thing that could top that is if a local orchestra were to plan their season around local, living composers. Perhaps with a focus on young composers, women composers, and composers of color? And maybe everything could be freshly commissioned, for the sake of not only speaking to These Times but also accommodating them aesthetically and technologically? This is precisely what living composers are good for, you know: reflecting the era they share with the audience.

Enter Portland Youth Philharmonic’s upcoming season, which they have divided into two “semesters.” This leaves them open to being flexible about reopening rules going into the spring semester, but more importantly it opens up the possibility of a completely different, totally digital fall semester.

Behold:

During our first digital semester, musicians will focus on learning new musical works specifically designed for remote performance. These new works, commissioned especially for PYP’s new season, will be composed primarily by women and composers of color.

The current line-up of composers engaged to write these compositions includes: Efraín Amaya, Lauren Bernofsky, Laura Brackney, Sergio Carreno, Giancarlo Castro D’Addona, Kate Davis, Darrell Grant, Marcus Grant, Deena T. Grossman, Jessica Meyer, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Keyla Orozco, Jeff Scott, Jim Stephenson.

Individual composer bios and more information will be available soon. We hope to add more composers to the list and to announce other participating youth orchestras throughout the year.

Learn more at the Youth Orchestras Commissioning Initiative website.

Are you kidding me, PYP? Every time we go thinking we can’t be more impressed by this band…

Stay tuned

And here we close for this week. No doubt you’re wondering where all the money for this “support” is supposed to come from. “If I can watch James Shields playing clarinet for free,” you may ask, “then why should I pay ten bucks to watch Lisa Lipton do the same thing?” Nevermind the obvious solution (watch them both, send Lisa your lunch money, buy James’ album when it’s finished). No, the problem here is simply that we are all broke.

Do bear in mind that these are the musicians who aren’t starving right now. If you wanted to get really radical you could be donating to musicians living on the street, musicians in prisons and cages, widows and orphans, the sick and dying–you know, the usual undesirables. But even then the task seems hopeless, impossible, Sisyphean. How are we to make art when it’s hard enough just to make a living?

That’s where we’ll pick up next week, beloved Oregon. For now, take care of yourselves–and remember to drink lots of water, mask up, and register to [censored] vote!

Want to support Black lives in Oregon? You can sign Resonance Ensemble’s open letter to the mayor and governor right here, and you can start learning more about racial injustice and police reform with Campaign Zero‘s #8cantwait campaign and the original Black Lives Matter.

Want to read more cultural news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

About the author
Editor / Correspondent | Website

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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