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Northwest choral community: Crossing the centuries

Area choirs collaborate on Ukraine benefit concert; the Tallis Scholars sing Antoine Brumel, David Lang, and Tomás Luis de Victoria; ISing brings “Stuck in the Americas” to The Reser; Willamette Master Chorus gives thanks to educators.

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Sing together for the peace

People lift their voices in times of celebration, in times of sorrow. They sing in despair and in hope. Choral singing inspires. We’ve heard this all season long from our Oregon choirs – resilience, perseverance, gratitude, remembrance, resolve. So is it any wonder that some of Portland’s choirs have come together to support humanitarian efforts for Ukraine? Well, it actually is a wonder. 

“It was divine serendipity,” says Alissa Deeter, co-conductor of Portland Symphonic Choir. We [Deeter and her colleague, co-conductor Bamonte] had just been informed of the unexpected cancellation of our Beethoven Missa Solemnis collaboration with Oregon Festival Orchestra. We needed to take the choir’s momentum and energy and use it to do something good.” There was an obvious choice and the choir members were in enthusiastic agreement about a Ukraine benefit. But where to go next?

Around the same time, Mark Powell had been thinking that Cappella Romana should look into some offering of support to Ukraine, especially since Portland Baroque Orchestra had canceled their early April Messiah performances. He contacted a downtown Portland venue but it was cost prohibitive and he tabled the idea. That’s when he got a call from Portland Symphonic Choir–who just happened to have a date and an open venue.

“Mark told me it was as if the opportunity had fallen from the sky,” said Deeter. Within days they were in contact with fellow conductors and the local branch of global humanitarian group Mercy Corps. A benefit concert, “Voices for Ukraine,” was formed.

On Sunday, May 1, 180 voices will be raised by these five choirs representing Portland’s community, professional and student singers:

  • Portland Symphonic Choir, Artistic Co-conductors Alissa Deeter and Wendy Bamonte
  • Cappella Romana, conducted in this concert by Associate Director John Michael Boyer
  • Grant High School Choir, conducted by John Eisemann
  • Portland State Chamber Choir, conducted by Ethan Sperry
  • Oregon Repertory Singers, conducted by Artistic Director Ethan Sperry

Each choir will sing pieces chosen primarily for texts that offer comfort and hope for peace. You will hear texts from scripture and liturgy in several works including Lly Matthew Maniano’s Lux Aeterna which will be sung by Oregon Repertory Singers, and works by Ukrainian composers Dmytro Bortnianskyi and Maksim Berezovsky sung by Cappella Romana. Grant High School sings an arrangement of “Soon Ah Will Be Done” by Portland composer Judy Rose. Portland State Chamber Choir offers Benedict Sheehan’s Second Antiphon – Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Pagliacci

“One of the most beautiful things about this performance,” said Powell, “is the variety of works, historic and contemporary.” Yes, and all relaying the same universal plea for “peace on earth” (from the Rachmaninoff Six Psalms, opening movement, sung by Portland Symphonic Choir).

PSC and Cappella will join in Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem Domine. Listen to it here. And all choir choirs sing as one to begin the concert (Prayer for Ukraine) and to close it: the Ukrainian National Anthem, Ще не вмерла України, “Ukraine Has Not Perished”.

“Can we sing the darkness to Light?” asks the title text by Kyle Peterson. Maybe only for a moment. But then this event happened because of a moment when hearts were open to the pain of our sisters and brothers on the other side of the world. Serendipitous, perhaps,  but certainly divine. 

Participate in this “Voices for Ukraine” Benefit for Ukraine by purchasing your tickets and donating to Mercy Corps here. Arts for All cards will be honored. Sunday, May 1, 4:00 pm at First United Methodist Church, Portland. Proof of vaccination will be checked at the door; masks are required at all times.

Renaissance rhapsody

Tallis Scholars on tour. Hmmm. One can imagine the spirited discussion, on their four-hour bus commute from Seattle, centering on the polyphonic phrasing in the opening of Spem in Alium; perhaps some lively Ben Johnson poetry round-robin to set the mood. Or perhaps, lively debate about whether William Byrd’s son Thomas was named after Byrd’s father or Thomas Tallis. How very staid and scholarly, that.

Pssst, hey Portland [whispered]. Word has it that after a two hour set these singers actually prefer Bohemian Rhapsody over Byrd. But keep this under your rain hat because if the word gets out how really cool these Tallis Scholars are they might become one of the most famous a cappella ensembles in the world and then–oh, that’s right, they already are and have been for almost 50 years. And thanks to our own Cappella Romana they are coming to Portland again on May 4. 

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Pagliacci

And here’s another bit of insider info about this upcoming Tallis Scholars concert: Tallis isn’t on the program. Instead,  founder and conductor Peter Phillips and the ensemble will lean into the middle Renaissance with a monumental piece by Franco-Flemish Antoine Brumel (1460-1512/3). Hang on to your fault lines because the Et ecce terræ motus for 12 voices, known as the Earthquake Mass (and recorded by the Scholars in 1992), is a seismic happening–especially when contemporary composer David Lang gets involved.

Coupled with movements of the Brumel Mass is Lang’s sun-centered which connects terra firma to the heavens and was designed to do just that.  The 2022 composition, premiered on this tour, was commissioned for the Tallis Scholars by eight entities. The parameters, says Phillips, were for Lang to “write a set of short movements which would act as a foil to Brumel’s monumental Earthquake Mass. Taking the Earthquake as his starting point, Lang decided to develop the equally terrestrial thought of what Galileo saw through this telescope in the late 16thcentury…and all the trouble the truth got him into.“ (Excerpted from Phillips’ remarks as quoted in Colin Anderson’s Column, March 2, 2022).

You might recall Portland Opera’s phenomenal 2017 match-up of Lang’s the difficulty of crossing a field and the little match girl passion (read the ArtsWatch coverage of that right here). Stunning, poignant and accessible contemporary writing. Lang’s style hasn’t been sufficiently pigeon-holed yet. Nor has sun-centered been placed in a formal category. There might not be one–which is pretty cool, actually. Just come and sit amidst the music and the texts drawn from Galileo, Plato, Francis Bacon and Psalm 19. This, Northwest music lovers, promises to be a special treat.

Note: for the Seattle concert on May 3, Phillips has programmed a masterpiece of a different Thomas: Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), the late-Renaissance Spanish composer and contemporary of Byrd. The St. James’ Cathedral audience will hear Victoria’s sacred and intense Requiem for 6 voices (parts); the Scholars recorded this one in 1987.

Cappella Romana maintains its mission, says Executive Director Mark Powell, to explore music of both the Christian East and West, from ancient to contemporary. In the thirty years since their founding by Alexander Lingas, they have welcomed numerous ensembles as guests in their own Northwest series; the Tallis Scholars are one of Portland’s favorites. The Scholars skipped their every-two-year PDX routine in 2020 – didn’t we all – but returns now with renewed energy and a very exciting program. “They are peerless!” remarked Powell. He should know; it’s been his pleasure to help arrange their PDX tour stop for years.

That is not to suggest that he might be the source of that Bohemian Rhapsody leak. No, not meant to suggest that at all. 

Here is your ticket site for the Tallis Scholars midweek concerts in Portland, Wed., May 4, 7:30 pm at St. Mary’s Cathedral and Seattle, Tues., May 3, 7:30 pm at St. James Cathedral. Proof of vaccination will be required as will masks at all times.

Sponsor

Washougal Art & Music Festival

They sing for the community

ISing is a Beaverton, Oregon choral phenomenon. They started as an internal singing “club” led by local conductor Stephen Galván on the Intel Corporate campus. In 2005 they morphed into their own organization and dedicated themselves to two ideals: sing great choral music with mastery and put on concerts to raise money for local non-profit organizations in Beaverton. Seventeen years later – check and check.

The 60ish-voice choir and Artistic Director Galván have also been able to tour internationally about every four years, but their “Out of the Americas” 2020 tour didn’t happen; in fact, this is their first concert in over two years. They’ve maintained virtual contact, however, and with a slight alteration to the original program title, they now present “Stuck In” the Americas on April 30 and May 1. And here’s value added, for them and for us: it’s another chance to hear choral music in The Patricia Reser Center for the Performing Arts.

ISing conductor Steven Galván. Photo by Daryl Browne.
ISing conductor Stephen Galván. Photo by Daryl Browne.

Galván hasn’t been up on stage for these two years but he’s been watching one being built in The Reser. For decades he’s been a witness to (and participant in) bringing the new cultural center to Beaverton. He currently sits on the Board of Trustees and is thrilled that his choir will present the first SATB a cappella music on The Reser’s stage. He remarked recently that “he is delighted to admit [the hall] is much better than I dreamed it could be.”

Again, in keeping with their mission of service to community, ISing–with the generous blessings of The Reser Executive Director Chris Ayzoukian and staff–have invited some Portland-area choral directors to their tech rehearsal to hear how the acoustic responds to choral sounds. This is no small thing, as any venue – sanctuary, hall, auditorium, gymnasium (yikes) – is a participant in performance. The reason we don’t hear many baroque concerts in St. Mary’s Cathedral is because the acoustic there is particularly “live”–which, on the other hand, makes St. Mary’s perfect for the a cappella fare of In Mulieribus, Cappella Romana or Tallis Scholars. Our music community is still getting to know The Reser acoustic and this gesture by ISing choir and The Reser is quite a collegial kindness. 

But go hear for yourself how a choir sounds on the Reser stage. ISing has a varied program. You’ll find Morton Lauridsen’s Sure on This Shining Night, accompanied by Yvonne Yang, alongside a precious Daniel Elder a cappella arrangement of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star which elasticizes the static duplet of the classic children’s song to create a flowing lullaby. Listen and see the score to that piece here

Salvo 150 by Brazilian composer Ernani Aguiar offers a rousing start to the concert followed by O sacrum convivium by Renaissance composer Antonio de Salazar born in Puebla de los Angeles (modern-day Mexico). Ave Maria by Canadian-born Nathanial Dett precedes Z. Randall Stroope’s The Conversion of Saul and pieces by living composers Dan Forrest and Patricia Van Ness.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Pagliacci

Galván has arranged “La Llorona” (The Wailing or Weeping Woman) for the choir and they will be joined by singer Mercedes Estevez of local group Los Gallos Rumba.

Mercedes Estevez rehearses "La Llorona" with ISing. Photo by Daryl Browne.
Mercedes Estevez rehearses “La Llorona” with ISing. Photo by Daryl Browne.

The Beaverton non-profit to receive 100% of donations collected from this concert is HomePlate Youth Services which provides drop-in centers and street outreach for local youth dealing with instability in daily life. Find out more about HomePlate at their website.

This is the first time ISing must charge admission for their concerts; Galván hopes it won’t put you off. Tickets are $5.00–and $3.50 of that is The Reser’s processing fee. Still a gift, yes?

Tickets for either concert, Sat., April 30, 7:30 pm or Sun., May 1, 3:00 pm are available through The Reser ticket site here. Proof of vaccination upon entry is required; masking in The Reser is optional but recommended.

Thankful season of singing in Salem

Willamette Master Chorus wraps up their season with a final outpouring of gratitude in “Songs of Perseverance.” Being thankful and giving thanks has been their predominant theme this year and they’ve done it proud. Firefighters, hospital staff and internet and technology personnel have all received a musical salute from Artistic Director Paul Klemme and the singers. This time WMC says “thank you” to teachers and school support staff who have stepped up in service of youth in our communities. Bravo tutti!

WMC has invited three higher education teachers to participate in this concert, a performance in solidarity with and support of the people suffering in conflict in the Ukraine. On both concerts, April 30 and May 1, baritone Anton Belov, who has soloed with WMC in past years, will lead the singing of the Ukrainian National Anthem. Belov, faculty member at Linfield College, will also sing an endearing folk song from Ukraine–“Ridna Maly Moya”–accompanied by Ukrainian native Arsen Gulua, who is on the staff at Willamette University. 

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

The Third Piano Sonata in Bb by Ukrainian composer Elena Gnatovskaya (1949-2007) was written in 2000. Salem pianist Asya Gulua will offer the first movement of that sonata in this concert. The Guluas, husband and wife, frequently perform together.

Karisha Longaker of MaMuse composed We Shall Be Known upon receiving it in a dream. It’s one of those pure songs that seems to synchronize with your heartbeat and just resonate through your whole being. There’s something about this song. Listen to it in duet form here.

Canadian composer Peter Berring’s Song of the Salish Chief (1986) is a 30 minute cantata for choir and narrator. Sung through the eyes of a Salish Chief, it depicts his beautiful memories of a thriving west coast Salish culture and the sorrow of witnessing disrespect and devastation of an entire people, their customs and their land. 

Songs of spirituality and faith, courage and despair turned into hope. These are the African American spirituals of unknown composers. “Hold On” from the Eugene Thamon Simpson (1939-2021) Choral Spirituals series plows through the oppression. The choir is also pleased to have worked with and to be performing a recent work by Portland educator and composer Judy Rose. Her Jubilant Day is her creative search for joy – for finding a jubilant day even in the rough times. Listen to Grant High School choir perform it here.

WMC has featured works of several of its own members this year, like Ryan Amend who has fashioned a dedication piece for every group to whom WMC has paid tribute. Since it’s time to celebrate educators, Amend (with Mark Lindsey) has composed Yearning for Learning. Another chorister, Madison Hall, will participate in the premiere of her own piece I Wish for Spring for the sopranos and altos of WMC.

Last September, conductor Klemme spoke about the ominous decision to “go down the rabbit hole” into the technology that would allow the choir to continue to sing together, to be together. He’s glad they did and he feels they have learned that while nothing can replace live music, live-streaming and youtube concert availability helps the choir stay connected with so many people, in so many places. This concert will be online as well. By the way, if you’ve seen their virtual concerts, weren’t they some of the best? Thanks for the quality choral experiences this year, WMC.

The Willamette Master Chorus concerts will be performed in the lovely Hudson Hall on the Willamette University Campus, Sat., April 30, 7:30 and Sun., May 1, 3:00 pm. Proof of vaccination is required.

Sponsor

CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top

Coming soon 

Eugene Concert Choir and Orchestra and Eugene Vocal Arts will perform Johannes Brahms’ Requiem with full orchestra on Sun., May 8, 2:30 pm in the Silva Concert Hall, The Hult Center.  Tickets are available here.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus present their a cappella ensemble Cascade in their first live concert, “Connect,” at the Aladdin Theater on Sat., May 7, 8:00 pm. Get tickets here.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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One Response

  1. Kudos to Browne for such comprehensive and well
    Written write ups of the choral scene in Pdx Very engaging and lively. Whole choral community owes her a big debt of gratitude as these are of such high quality! Thanks for your splendid contributions!

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