Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Paths of Miracles: A choral peregrination from history into the future

Cappella Romana releases their new creation-themed album; Choral Arts Ensemble shares the music of local composer Sydney Guillaume; Oregon Repertory Singers takes on Joby Talbot’s miraculous ‘Path’; Choro in Schola and PSU support choral education at The Reser; Bach Cantata Choir and Portland Symphonic Choir go to the foundations.

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“Old Talks With New Icons ‘Nag Champa’” by Philip A. Robinson, Jr.
“Old Talks With New Icons ‘Nag Champa’” by Philip A. Robinson, Jr.

It’s a journey . . . that I propose . . . I am not the guide . . . nor technical assistant . . . I will be your fellow passenger . . .

Nikki Giovanni, from “Journey.”

In the weeks ahead Portland choirs are inviting you to join them on their journeys. Not just to watch or listen, but to join them in treks on ancient pathways or forays into the firmament; in revisiting the past and appreciating more fully the present. Come be – as Ms. Giovanni suggests – their fellow passenger. Here’s a glimpse of where you might be headed.

Heaven and Earth

If you journeyed to the cosmos would your traveling companion be a religious mentor or a scientist? The central piece of Cappella Romana’s season opening concert was inspired by one and nurtured to life by the other. How did this journey of science and faith unfold? 

Once upon a time (on July 4, 2012) a group of scientists–Peter Higgs and several colleagues–were faithfully watching a little elementary particle playing in the field when a quantum excitation occurred….and discovered a type of subatomic particle of the “boson” variety…and they named it Higgs.

(A very non-scientific flash exposition).

This discovery of the “God particle” inspired an artistic devotional response from the Orthodox community, a choral liturgical work based on the creation psalm, Psalm 103: Heaven and Earth – A Song of Creation. For a much more precise account about the fascinating origins of this English language work, read this article by Richard Barrett, artistic director of the St. John of Damascus Society.

The science part of the story was a huge event, the culmination of decades of research and theory. The faith part of that story was nurtured by The St. John of Damascus Society who sponsored The Psalm 103 Project and commissioned six composers of Orthodox liturgical music to interpret the creation story. Cappella Romana’s Associate Conductor, John Michael Boyer, was one of the honored composers.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

The first meeting convened in 2013, scores were submitted in 2015 and the complete Heaven and Earth was premiered by Cappella Romana here in Portland in 2018 with Boyer on the podium (read OregonArtsWatch’s review of that premiere here). The upcoming concert and CR’s newly-released two-disk CD of the epic work are also conducted by Boyer, and you can hear CR performing composer Kurt Sander’s contribution, “He Made The Moon,” here:

Attend this concert and accompany Cappella Romana on this journey to explore the “relationship between faith and science in the wonder of God’s creation” (excerpt from a 2017 letter of blessing from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew). 

Also on the program is Sir John Taverner’s Ikon of Light, commissioned in 1984 by the Tallis Scholars. Allow the various choral definitions of luminosity to pour over and envelop you. “Talismanic words are set, in the tradition of ancient liturgical chants, to music of timeless power, music hammered in bronze, carved in granite, music without a single superfluous note.” (American premiere review, Washington Post, July 1,1987, Joseph McLellan).

The opening minutes of this work seem to set the sunrise to music; it would make the best wake-up alarm ever.

Cappella Romana’s season opens on Oct. 14 at 7:30 in Seattle (St. James Cathedral) and for two Portland concerts, Sat. Oct. 15 at 8 pm (St. Mary’s Cathedral) and Sun. Oct. 16 at 3 pm (The Madeleine Parish). Tickets and more information here

A joyous frenzy

Choral Arts Ensemble continues to bring composers and their wonderful choral music to Portland audiences. Last year we met Timothy Takach, and in 2018 Director David De Lyser and CAE introduced us to Jake Runestad with the help of Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir under the direction of Raymund Ocampo (LBCC is an artistic partner in this concert as well).

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

But CAE isn’t “bringing” this season’s guest composer Sydney Guillaume to Portland–Portland is home to this internationally-renowned composer (did you know that?) You are invited to get to know Guillaume and his music on Oct. 15 and 16. Brett Campbell recently interviewed Guillaume for ArtsWatch, discussing his music and his journey from Haiti to Oregon–read that here.

In this concert you will travel with Guillaume to his Haitian roots in verse and music–his compositions are an uplifting, full-bodied experience. When the composer conducted his music in New York in Carnegie Hall in 2016 a reviewer wrote that his pieces were “energy packed celebrations, filled with clapping, dancing, and joy.” (NY Concert Review, April 2016, Jeffrey Williams) 

But when the heart needs to cry and words alone cannot comfort, there is “Pour Toi, Mère”–one of Guillaume’s earliest works, performed in this concert. Listen to Anmwe for SSAATTBB choir and experience the complexity of rhythm, shifts in mood, harmonic variety and the wonderful arc. Or listen to Kanaval, performed by an All State Choir in Maine in 2019 with the composer on the podium. Be at once caught up in the joyous frenzy of the music. The students were – well, watch them. Guillaume is a gifted musician, in demand as an educational workshop presenter and as conductor.

Choral Arts Ensemble’s willingness to be ready for anything offered by guest artists is admirable and welcoming. And Linn-Benton CC regularly invites guest composers and conductors to their campus. It’s a good partnership. But talk about a learning curve – both choirs received a speed course in Kreyól ayisyen, the Haitian language. Guillaume’s texts (many of them poetry of his father) are primarily Kreyól. Discover more of the story behind each of the pieces on the concert in CAE’s program notes, written by Susan Wladaver-Morgan.

Let’s celebrate Sydney Guillaume and his music and collegiality at these Choral Arts Ensemble concerts at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, Sat. Oct. 15, 7:30 pm and Sun. Oct. 16, 3 pm. Tickets and more information here.

Path of Miracles

The path to the creation of the work opening the Oregon Repertory Singers season was a very interesting one for composer Joby Talbot. He was presented with an idea by Nigel Short, founder and conductor of the renowned Tenebrae Choir: could he conceive of a choral work about the medieval pilgrimage to the burial place of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain? Here are Talbot’s own words about the next step in the journey:

Sponsor

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

A trip to northern Spain with my wife Claire and our one-year-old son Maurice followed, and over ten magical days…we visited many of the important points of the Camino, including four of its greatest churches: the abbey at Roncesvalles in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the great cathedrals of Burgos, Leon and Santiago itself. The impression these places left on me became the basis for the musical structure of my work.

Read the full publisher program notes here.

Path of Miracles was commissioned by Tenebrae Choir and has been called a masterpiece, and compared to the compositions of Arvo Pärt. The Tenebrae interpretation is legendary and they have made one of the few recordings of the hour-long work (Conspirare also recorded it). Tenebrae continues to fill halls with Path of Miracles tours; perhaps you caught them performing the work on tour at Southern Oregon University in Ashland in 2019. But you won’t find too many Path performances by choirs around the US. Why is that?

ORS Conductor Ethan Sperry has been communicating with Talbot by email and shared his insight on that question: “According to Joby Talbot we are by far the largest choir to perform this work. He was surprised to hear that an amateur choir of our size would tackle the piece.” Gulp. Okay. Sure, there are lusciously intricate and folder-gripping harmonic scaffolds and progressions–and Talbot voiced the numerous soprano soloistic parts near the top of the Pyrenees while burying the basses on the valley floor. And he even wrote some stage direction cues, leaning toward the theatrical.

Yes, Talbot might be surprised that ORS would want to take it on. But are we surprised, Portland? That ORS is embarking on a journey where others dare not go? Pshaw! We are not, for fearless they be.

Structurally, the biggest challenge is that while the work is written for SATB choir, each section is divided into four sections, making this a sixteen voice composition: SSSSAAAATTTTBBBB. So, let’s see, 100 singers, at 25-ish per section divided by 4–are you computing this? Every voice is essential.

So with that sinister super-subdivision in mind, listen to Tenebrae’s 17 voices performing an excerpt of “Santiago” the final movement of the four-movement work (each movement is named after the locales Talbot mentioned above). You will want to make this journey with ORS. 

The concerts are at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts on Sat. Oct. 22, 7:30 pm and Sun. Oct. 23 at 4 pm. Tickets are available here.

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

A choral music education drop in

On Oct. 25, also at the Reser, you have an opportunity to hear some great choral music brought to you by two wonderful Portland choirs with a common goal. You probably know the award-winning Portland State University Chamber Choir, recently returned from an International Choral Festival in Portugal. (Be sure to hear them in their own concerts later this season). The other choir, Choro in Schola, has, for 14 years, made an impact on choral music in our Metropolitan area without ever giving a community concert.

So what’s the common goal? Bringing the best quality choral music directly to high school choir students. The professional singers of CIS and their conductor Dr. Jacob Funk visit high schools all around the Portland/Vancouver area, performing and serving as a mentor choir.

The event on Oct. 25 isn’t just a performance by these two choirs. This year marks the return of Choral FX, an 18-school invitational concert event sponsored by Choro in Schola in partnership with Portland State. Beginning in mid afternoon, four students from each of the 18 choirs are selected by their teachers to form a mass choir, working with Drs. Ethan Sperry (PSU) and Jacob Funk (Clark College) and some of the Choro in Schola personnel on musicality, style and vocal production. PSU and CIS singers then join the students for side-by-side mentoring followed by a dinner break, and then all singers take the stage to prepare for choral music by the two choirs and a massed choir performance, open to the public, which begins at 7:30.

You are invited, free of charge, to this grand finish to a day of teamwork, friendship and great choral singing. Come encourage these young singers on their journey to a lifetime love of choral music. The Reser. Tues. Oct. 25, 7:30 pm. Masks are encouraged.

Foundations

Portland’s oldest SATB choir is performing in a new Portland concert venue, in one of Portland’s oldest buildings, which really isn’t a concert venue, it’s a bank, but it’s not really a bank.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

Oh, bother. Here’s what’s cool about all this.

Bank of Expensify, a financial tracking and expense report software development firm, opened its Portland branch in 2018 in the newly remodeled, National Landmarked, First National Bank Building. On October 23 the choral sounds of the Portland Symphonic Choir will reverberate within the 55-foot-ceilinged, metal, wood and glass atrium. The 106 year-old building is an appropriate setting for a program that celebrates the music and musicians that have propelled the choir through its 77 years. 

Exterior view of First National Bank at SW 5th Ave and Stark Street in 1919.
Exterior view of First National Bank at SW 5th Ave and Stark Street in 1919.

Join the choir as they traverse an eclectic mix of choral pieces, many of which represent the repertoire of three past conductors: Frank Holman, David Wilson and Bruce Browne. Broadway tunes–very popular choral fare in the sixties–are given a moment with Conductor Alissa Deeter’s medley arrangement from Music Man. The grand romantic a cappella works are featured with the Anton Bruckner Locus Iste and the Franz Biebl Ave Maria. Oh, can you just imagine that beloved double-choir piece in the latter-day Cathedral-like acoustic.

Chanticleer does a nice Biebl, too. Listen here:

Over the decades PSC has brought myriad choral/orchestral masterpieces to Portland audiences on their own concert series. But in this performance the choir offers a special tribute to James DePreist, conductor of the masterworks collaborations between PSC and the Oregon Symphony from 1980 to 2003. 

Also on the concert is the music of Copland, Susan LaBarr, Pärt and Bernstein. It is here that PSC moves into the present – and perhaps future – collaborating with push/FOLD dance ensemble. The Lark–a choral setting of Bernstein’s incidental music to Jean Anouilh’s 1952 play depicting the trial and execution to Joan of Arc–is ideal for a dance interpretation choreographed by Artistic Director Samuel Hobbs. push/FOLD will also give us their take on the tango assisted by a choral arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango.

push/FOLD dancers Samuel Hobbs and Briley Jozwiak. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.
push/FOLD dancers Samuel Hobbs and Briley Jozwiak. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

On an historic but renewed foundation, Portland Symphonic Choir presents this concert at Bank of Expensify atrium, 401 SW 5th Ave, downtown Portland, on Sun. Oct. 23 at 4 pm. For tickets and more information click here. Masks are required.

Sponsor

Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Ask a couple folks this question: What was the one of the earliest significant social media posts? You might hear names like Zuckerberg, Dorsey, “my friend Tom”; locations like MIT, Harvard, Stanford; sites like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace. Do you think anyone, anyone at all would come up with this answer: Luther, Wittenberg, Castle Church. One of those a-ha moments just hit you, right?

Okay, monk and university scholar Martin Luther probably didn’t even do the nail-the-theses-to-the-door bit – all those photos are photoshopped. But Luther likely did submit his famous document to the Archbishop of Mainz on Oct. 31, 1517, and it did go word-of-mouth viral–it certainly caused a “trembling agitation” (Oxford definition of “twitter”) and did precipitate a Roman and Western Christian division and help cause the Reformation.

Just a tad over 100 years later, Johann Sebastian Bach, age 30, wrote his first cantata commemorating the Reformation (BWV 80) and you can hear the final version performed by the Bach Cantata Choir on October 30 in Portland. J.S. himself took the work through several reformations: double reeds were added to the orchestra, and more chorales were added, including, at least a decade later, the intricate, grandiose opening chorale. Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann added trumpet and timpani years after his father’s death (a common reworking used by J.S. himself).

But the binding thread spanning the century and woven into the work takes us right back to Martin Luther himself. Luther’s hymn tune “Ein feste Burg” – you may know it as “A Mighty Fortress” – is sung as a straight chorale and is also the thematic glue in four movements. “Ein Feste Burg” – Reformation theme song after 500 years. Who knew?

Also programmed in the concert is Claudio Monteverdi’s six-voice “Cantata Domino” and an early Bach funeral cantata, BWV 106, “Gotten Zeit is der allerbest Zeit” (God’s Time is the Best Time). This concert is presented in honor of choir members who have passed away in recent times.

BCC founder and director Ralph Nelson conducts the choir and orchestra at 2 pm, Sun. Oct. 30, at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, Portland. Admission is free, but a free-willing offering is appreciated. Masks are required and attendance will be limited.

Connections

Sponsor

Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Visual arts

Washington County Artists are certainly going to use the dry weather forecast to their advantage when they swing open their doors during the 12thAnnual OPEN STUDIOS tour the weekend of Oct. 15 and 16 (10-5 both days). Take an artistic journey to 41 studios, 5 galleries–it’s a chance to meet the artists and witness their creative spirit. At your first stop pick up a “passport” for added fun and to enter a prize drawing.

The artwork used by permission at the top of this article is the work of one of those Washington County artists, Philip A. Robinson, Jr. His sculpture – “Old Talks With New Icons ‘Nag Champa’ ” – is walnut, yellow maple, cherry, spalted maple, mirror stainless steel with basswood frame, 49.75 x 38.5 inches. Visit his Beaverton studio and others in the Open Studio tour.

Click here for a full map and more information on accessibility and masking requirements. And keep an eye on their website for a schedule of accessible and health-conscious “Online Studios” episodes coming later this year. 

Strangely coincidental

Tenebrae Choir is on a Path of Miracles tour right now in England. They will perform the work at St. Martin in the Fields two days before the ORS performance weekend. There’s something cosmic about that, almost miraculous.

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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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