Oregon Cultural Trust

MusicWatch Weekly: wonder women


Our regnant political culture seems to be waging war on everyone who doesn’t belong to the long-dominant ruling class. Let’s hope it’s the last gasps. This week’s Oregon music offers life-affirming musical retaliation from those (sometimes literal) targets: young people, women, immigrants, Mexicans, and more.

Women’s voices and music were long silenced by overt or de facto oppression, but a couple of Portland concerts this weekend shows just how much female composers had — and have — to offer.

Wright, Marsh, and Philipps wrote the music for Burn After Listening’s Saturday concert.

On Saturday at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland composers collective Burn After Listening New Music returns for its second presentation: (Dis)connect: New Music for Challenging Times, with original compositions by three top Portland female composers. Some stars of Oregon classical music — Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet and singer Laura Beckel Thoreson — join  violist Christina Ebersohl (whom we’ll have more about next month), dancer Christina Wolken, writer Katie Boehnlein in multimedia creations by Lisa Ann Marsh, Stacey Philipps, and Jennifer Wright. You can also experience Disjecta’s current exhibition by yet another female Oregon artist, Portia Munson’s large-scale installation, Flood. And yes, Wright’s Skeleton Piano will rattle its bones.

Christina Ebersohl performs at Burn After Listening’s show.

Also on Saturday night (alas) at Northwest Dance Project and also Sunday afternoon (yay!) at The Hallowed Halls, another newish Portland ensemble, the Broken Consort, presents its second performance. Sirens, Interrupted features not only contemporary music by founder/composer/singer/social advocate/Big Mouth Emily Lau (the cantata excerpt In Praise of Menstruation), but also the premiere of Maggie Finnegan’s Assemble with Care, an autobiographical cantata of the experience of a rape victim, plus Oregon premieres of music by a pair of renowned 20th century women, Meredith Monk and Pauline Oliveros, one of today’s rising female composers, Kate Soper.

The Broken Consort performs music by women on Saturday and Sunday.

The concert also connects today’s female composers with a long tradition of women’s classical music, from the virtuosic vocal music by independent 13th century Spanish nuns in the Las Huelgas Codex to the pioneering works by 17th century Italy’s all-female musicians’ collective Concerto Delle Donne and more. Lau, a board member of Early Music America, was a force in Boston’s flourishing early music scene before relocating to Portland, and performers include early music and contemporary music specialists from around the nation.

Speaking of early-contemporary music combos, Seattle’s Tudor Choir commissioned another contemporary composer much influenced by folk music, much-acclaimed Philip Glass protege Nico Muhly, to create a new piece, Small Raine, which they’ll sing in concerts presented by Cappella Romana Saturday night at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch and Sunday afternoon at Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church, 475 SE 3rd Ave. The centuries-spanning program also includes English Renaissance composer John Taverner’s 16th-century Western Wind Mass, and more.

Another recommended choral concert: Portland State University’s award-winning choirs’ centennial tribute to Leonard Bernstein Friday and Sunday at First United Methodist Church. Along with his masterful Chichester Psalms, the show also  features music by living composers who were heavily influenced by Bernstein, including the Northwest premieres of new works by British composer Tarik O’Regan and American composer Eric Whitacre.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

The Tudor Choir performs Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Hillsboro. Photo: William Stickney Photography.

Speaking of female Oregon composers, as we were earlier, Sunday’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony concert features music by two more: MYS violinist and composer Katie Palka’s The Breathing Earth and Corvallis composer/violinist Jayanthi Joseph’s Olam. Even the main composition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever-thrilling Scheherazade, celebrates a woman who used her creativity to survive. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch feature about this concert and Palka tomorrow.

And speaking of young musicians, that other Portland orchestra for young folks, Portland Youth Philharmonic, offers it own concert with Tchaikovsky’s lush fourth Symphony, the Portland premiere of Current, by the young Russian-American string master/onetime busker Lev Zhurbin, better known as Ljova, who’s worked with Kronos Quartet, Silk Road Ensemble and more, and a relative 20th century rarity, Paul Creston‘s Concertino for marimba and orchestra.

If you want to help young musicians in Lane County along with enjoying their music, check out Friday’s Eugene-Springfield Youth Orchestras benefit recital at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, which raises funds to buy instruments for 4th and 5th graders learning the violin. The show features pros like UO violin prof Fritz Gearhart, visiting artist Marina Chich, guests from Eugene Symphony, Oregon Mozart Players and student performances of music by Bach, Moszkowski, and more.

Portland new music ensemble Fear No Music has commendably devoted its season to music by those deemed unwelcome by the dominant cultural and political establishment. Monday and next Wednesday’s concerts at Portland’s Old Church and Hillsboro’s Walters Cultural Arts Center feature powerful, future-facing music by some of today’s finest Mexican and Mexican-American composers. Juan Pablo Contreras’s searing Silence in Juárez commemorates the victims of a 2011 mass murder of teenagers in his hometown (and Portland’s sister city) of Guadalajara. Other selections include Ana Lara’s kittenish Little Steps, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s explosive Ex Machina and Edgar Barroso’s incisive Catalyst.

Immigrants are another target our rulers have used to divide and conquer, and Portland Chamber Music’s Saturday concert at Portland’s Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St, pushes back by inviting music by Syrian American composer Malek Jandali, Cambodia-American Chinary Ung, Ecuadorian immigrant Diego Luzuriaga, Russian emigre Sergei Rachmaninoff, Portland based Cuban-American composer Antonio Freixas, and other border-crossing composers.

Anna Fritz plays and sings cello folk music.

A pair of classically trained musicians who also cherish, create and perform folk music have a free show Sunday at southeast Portland’s Firkin Tavern, 1937 SE 11th Ave. Portland Cello Project cellist/songwriter Anna Fritz joins Little One, a guitar-viola-bass clarinet founded by Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble trumpeter Douglas Detrick (an ArtsWatch contributor who here sings original songs and plays clawhammer banjo) in a concert of original chamber-folk.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

And speaking of folk music, ’tis a wee early for St. Paddy’s, but you won’t hear finer Irish music live this spring than at Altan’s concerts at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre Wednesday and Thursday. Not only do you get maybe the premiere touring Celtic music band, but also the excellent Lunasa and world champion Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, who’s called Portland home for many years now.

Speaking of vernacular-tinged chamber music, on Monday and Tuesday, Friends of Chamber Music brings France’s Ebène Quartet back to Portland State’s Lincoln Hall Monday to play great quartets by Haydn, Bartok and Beethoven, and to play a little jazz and other pop/folk tunes along with another Beethoven classic on Tuesday.

There’s more Beethoven chamber music — and more immigrant music — on the agenda at microphilharmonic’s Sunday afternoon concert at Eugene’s Shedd Institute. Along with Ludwig van, this premiere show for this new band led by veteran clarinetist Michael Anderson and violinist Alice Blankenship features wind ensemble music by Mozart and 18th/19th century German-American composer David Moritz Michael.

Speaking of windy Sunday afternoon music, Portland Wind Symphony and Marylhurst Women’s Chorale present a free, sensory-friendly concert at Marylhurst University’s St. Anne’s Chapel that includes an instrument petting zoo, info on music therapy, and more. And Portland State’s wind symphony offers its own concert as well.

More musical recommendations are always welcome in the comments section below.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.


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Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.


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