MusicWatch Weekly: winter’s tales

Remember when opera lovers despaired of experiencing their favorite art form during Oregon’s indoor seasons? Well, after switching to a summer festival schedule last year, Portland Opera has added back a fall performance and December brings several other operatic opportunities. Opera Theater Oregon returns this weekend with The Little Prince,  British composer Rachel Portman’s operatic, family friendly English-language adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved classic tale. The plucky independent opera company features new management and old favorites, including Portland Opera singers Hannah Penn and Anton Belov, local stars Damien Geter and Catherine Olson, and more. Stay tuned for Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch preview.
Friday-Sunday at Portland5 Winningstad Theatre.

Opera Theater Oregon’s ‘The Little Prince’ runs this weekend at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre. Photo: Theodore Sweeney

• An earlier French fantasy furnishes the story for another opera onstage in Portland this weekend and next. Imagine the government dictating women’s reproductive choices. Crazy notion, I know, but after the massacres of the first World War (and other times too), nationalist rulers encouraged the women in some combatant countries to deploy their uteri to replenish the depleted ranks of cannon fodder, and crank out babies like so many production-line tanks. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1903 surrealist drama The Breasts of Tirésias (Les Mamelles de Tirésias) imagined what would happen if a French woman refused to do her patriotic duty, delegating the task to her husband — who in an outburst of patriotic fervor delivers — to the tune of 40,049 babies in a single day, all of whom have successful careers in the arts, of course.

Actually, the tunes belong to French composer Francis Poulenc, who in 1947 turned his buddy Apollinaire’s crazy farce into his own breezy first opera. This full staging with piano and percussion is the big event in one of the year’s most appealing classical music programs: Portland State’s fab Poulenc@PSU series, bringing deserved local prominence to one of those composers I always recommend to classical music fans who mistakenly believe that the 20th century produced little music of charm and tunefulness. Like Poulenc himself, the opera bursts with both humor and seriousness. And the gender-bendy story, such as it is, remains resonant.
Friday through December 9. Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

• Speaking of music/theater combos, Portland Center Stage is pairing its production of another beloved holiday tale, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, with actor/singer/multi-instrumentalist Merideth Kaye Clark and Brandon Woolley’s revue Winter Song, which celebrates songs of this season.
Through Dec. 30 at The Armory, Portland.

Portland Center Stage’s ‘Winter Song.’

Jazz and other Chamber Music

It’s both unusual and appropriate that Friends of Chamber Music is presenting MJ New Quartet. After all, four people playing piano, vibraphone, bass and drums is just as much chamber music as four people playing violins viola and cello. Appearing on a classical chamber music series would have pleased John Lewis, who founded one of the first and most fruitful fusions of jazz and classical music, the Modern Jazz Quartet, after World War II, originally with fellow bebop stars from Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. While bop, swing and improvisation remained mainstays of their four-decade run, pianist/composer Lewis also incorporated “classical” techniques like fugues into his originals, and the group sometimes performed with orchestras and other classical ensembles. Though some old-school purists frowned at the presentation (more like a tuxedoed string quartet than a hot jazz combo) and often restrained sound, at their best, the quartet created indelible original fusion music propelled by both jazz’s rhythmic power and classical music’s contrapuntal intricacies.

Now, Portland’s own jazz eminence, pianist and composer Darrell Grant (who’s been exploring the terrain between jazz and classical music for years now, including writing an opera about gentrification) has assembled a new quartet of local jazz stars with MJQ’s instrumentation (bassist/composer Marcus Shelby, vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, drummer Carlton Jackson) to play the pioneering group’s hits, other cool jazz, some Bach, and Grant’s own originals.
Thursday. The Old Church, Portland.

• Busy vibes virtuoso Horsfall returns in another tribute to Old Masters (another similarity between jazz and classical music these days). A New Shade of Blue celebrates one of the vibraphone legends from the generation following MJQ’s Bags Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, and saxophonist Harold Land, who collaborated on several jazz classics. Some of Portland’s best known jazz artists (John Nastos, Gordon Lee, Jonathan Lakey and Alan Jones) join Horsfall in this PDX Jazz show.
Sunday, The Old Church, Portland.

• In Portland Piano International’s latest presentation of pianistic excellence, prize winning young Hong Kong born pianist Rachel Cheung plays music by Mozart, Chopin, Franck, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt and Janacek’s haunting In the Mists.
Saturday & Sunday, Lincoln Hall, PSU.

• Friends of Chamber Music also presents a more familiar concert with frequent visitors the Takács Quartet (with new second violinist Harumi Rhodes) in their 20th appearance presented by FOCM. No wonder: they certainly rank among the world’s finest small ensembles, able to make hoary classics ring with their original passion. Monday’s program includes one of Haydn’s late quartets, and others by Brahms and Shostakovich. Tuesday’s features earlier, Haydn, later Shostakovich, and a special treat: Schubert’s great Cello Quintet, one of the pinnacles of chamber music, with special guest cellist Portland’s own cello master Hamilton Cheifetz, from the Florestan Trio, Portland State faculty, and innumerable appearances with ensembles and on stages in Portland and around the globe.
Monday and Tuesday, Lincoln Hall, PSU.

The Takacs Quartet returns to Portland State University. Photo: John Green.

Orchestra

• Here’s something all Oregon orchestras should be doing every year, even every concert. To celebrate its 30th anniversary. Tualatin Valley Community Band commissioned Portland composer Arthur Breur to create a musical work representing the past, present, and future of the ensemble. His Tuesday Night Overture derives musical material from the names of the band’s music directors and other phrases, words, ideas and names specifically associated with the ensemble.
Sunday afternoon (not Tuesday night) at Tualatin High School auditorium.

• Eugene Symphony rockets off to live film soundtrack with a performance of Star Wars: a New Hope, retracing Oregon Symphony’s interplanetary journey there last month. Read Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review of that voyage.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

• Speaking of Oregon Symphony, they’re playing Rachmaninoff’s last masterpiece, the commanding Symphonic Dances, along with 20th century British composer William Walton’s seldom heard Violin Concerto (with stellar guest soloist James Ehnes), and Exquisite Corpse, a splendidly spacy contemporary composition by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg, a favorite of esteemed conductors like the LA Philharmonic’s Esa-Pekka Salonen and the New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert. “Exquisite Corpse, which lasts for a little less than a quarter of an hour, is a rapid charge through Ligeti-complexity, homage to Stravinsky, chorales, hammering urban rhythms, late-romantic string writing with a discreet wink at Sibelius interspersed into the orchestral mist before the end,” read the liner notes from its first recording, a musical sical roller-coaster ride that is so laced with sharp turns that one has hardly got one’s breath back by the time that the ride is over.”
Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday-Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Live Streams

PSU Noon Concert Series: Opera Scenes at noon Thursday.

Live From Beall Concert Hall: Joseph Vranas graduate composition recital. Thursday,  8:00pm.

Student Composition Recital: The Lewis & Clark Department of Music presents a recital of new music composed by students in the department’s composition program on Friday 7:30pm.

Got more late-fall Oregon musical recommendations? Please elaborate in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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