MusicWatch Monthly: Radioactive glowing disk returns to Oregon!

Summer arrives, with festivals, season closers and sun

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Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1911, oil on canvas, 14.9 x 25.5 feet, University of Oslo, Norway. Wikimedia Commons

Five weeks and one day

There’s an old zen saying: you should meditate 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour every day.

Two festivals of contemporary classical music hit Portland this month, and if you’re too busy for one you should make time for the other. Chamber Music Northwest starts June 24 and stretches well into July, with local and international musicians performing everything from tons of Mozart to a bunch of stuff by contemporary composers. Meanwhile on June 27 Makrokosmos, now in its fifth year, crams a similar density of breadth and excellence in a one-day festival of Takemitsu, Crumb, and other modernist composers.

“Makrokosmos Project V: Black Angels”
June 27
Vestas Building

Bicoastal pianists DUO Stephanie & Saar present the best value in Portland’s contemporary music scene: Makrokosmos Project, a one-day mini-festival which has evolved into an annual feat of endurance for Portland new music nuts. This year, local pianists join Ho and Ahuvia to present the complete piano music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, spread across two of the evening’s four segments, along with other piano works by John Luther Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Olivier Messiaen. The mini-fest ends with the Pyxis Quartet’s performance of George Crumb’s gorgeously nightmare-inducing Black Angels: “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” for electric string quartet (you read that right). One ticket gets you a five-hour mini-festival with free cheese and wine. Hard to beat.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival: Week One
June 24 – 30
Kaul Auditorium at Reed College
Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University
Alberta Rose Theater

Clarinetist extraordinaire David Shifrin ends his nearly four-decade run as CMNW Artistic Director with an opening week full of clarinets. No fewer than 27 all-star clarinetists perform two centuries of clarinet music ranging from Mozart—the first great composer to write for the instrument—to new works by Libby Larsen and Michele Mangani.

The festival opens with an all-Mozart concert at Reed College on Monday (repeated Tuesday at PSU), featuring the enchanting Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet and the Notturni for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone, and Three Basset Horns. For the season’s first Casual Wednesday, jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski performs with his quartet at Alberta Rose Theater. Thursday, back at Reed, the clarinet all-stars play Mendelssohn and Gershwin alongside newer works by Alexander Kukelka and Jeff Scott.

CMNW’s Friday series, New@Noon, spotlights newer classics by contemporary composers. This summer’s first Friday features clarinetist-composer Ashley William Smith, Portland favorite Kenji Bunch, and the Northwest premiere of Larsen’s quintet for clarinet and strings. Saturday’s concert, Clarinet Critical Mass, features the week’s greatest concatenation of clarinets, performing ensemble pieces by Reich, Villa-Lobos, and Piazzolla, plus the world premiere of Mangani’s CMNW-commissioned Concertante Variations on Themes of Mozart.

The week ends where it began, with Mozart: a small orchestra of CMNW regulars backs the winner of CMNW’s International Clarinet Celebration Young Artists Competition on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major.

Sing Out

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“Intensive Care”
June 9
Resonance Ensemble, Cerimon House

“I am going to go get the doctor,” the technician told Arkansas composer Stephen Caldwell and his wife when he saw the ultrasound image of their unborn first child. His congenital heart defect led to “multiple medivac helicopter rides, more than 100 days spent in the ICU, two open heart surgeries, millions in medical bills, 20,000 miles driven, [and] stress on an indescribable scale,” Caldwell wrote about his family’s journey, chronicled in his initially harrowing, ultimately inspirational choral composition Pre-Existing Condition.

Its West Coast premiere will be performed by Portland’s all-star vocal group Resonance Ensemble, led by artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon, who’d recently faced a similar crisis with the birth of her medically fragile son. The concert also includes Only in Falling, a deeply felt setting of Wendell Berry poems composed in 2012 by FitzGibbon’s Portland friend and colleague, Renée Favand-See, when her infant son Owen died shortly after he was born. Only In Falling is also featured on their new CD, LISTEN (named for the Melissa Dunphy composition Resonance premiered this year). Poet S. Renee Mitchell, pianist Kira Whiting, Third Angle flutist Sarah Tiedemann, and Portland Percussion Group also perform.

We make no secret of being Resonance enthusiasts. As Arts Watch’s Matthew Andrews recently wrote, they do social justice music justice: their concerts are part social commentary, part group therapy, and part best damn choir show in town. Likely to sell out, so get on it!

The Barber of Seville
June 7 – 15
Portland Opera, Keller Auditorium

Portland Opera swings between modern works and more conventional fare, and the upcoming production of Rossini’s beloved comic opera is solidly in the latter category. Director Christopher Mattaliano promises, “We’re embracing the conventions of opera, which can be a ridiculous art form, and not apologizing for it.” Starring mezzo Aleks Romano, tenor Jack Swanson, bass-baritone Eduardo Chama, and Metropolitan Opera baritone John Moore in the title role.

Stonewall Riot: Soundtrack to a Revolution
June 22
Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, Keller Auditorium

PGMC ends its season with a celebration of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary. This will also be outgoing Artistic Director Bob Mensel’s last concert after 26 years with the choir, so if you’ve been waiting all this time now’s your chance.

Local Composers

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“Oregon Composers Concert”
June 9
Tualatin Valley Symphony, Living Savior Lutheran Church, Tualatin

The only orchestra in town playing a concert of all Oregon composers isn’t the famous one with Oregon in its name, but the Tualatin Valley Symphony. The season-closing concert’s centerpiece is Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Piano and Strings, with works by Andrew Poole Todd, Bill Whitley, and Kevin Walczyk. TVS is also playing two overtures, one of which Arts Watch readers might recognize: Nicole Buetti’s darkly catchy Odyssey Overture. The other, of course, is the city of Tualatin’s official overture, Portland composer Arthur Breur’s Tualatin Overture.

“Storm Large in: Crazy Enough”
June 29
Portland Center Stage, The Armory

Didn’t get enough Storm Large during her fabulous run singing Kurt Weill with Hudson Shad and the Oregon Symphony last month? The Portland singer is back, with a week-long tenth-anniversary run of her autobiographical musical, commissioned by PCS in 2009.

“From Maxville to Vanport”
June 30
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Central Library

Multnomah County Central Library’s Collins Gallery hosts a free performance of the multimedia concert work, with music by PGCE band-leader Ezra Weiss, words from Resonance Ensemble poet-in-residence S. Renee Mitchell, video by Kalimah Abioto, and vocals by Marilyn Keller. The same show is also going down a week earlier at the North Portland library on Killingsworth.

Trumpet, Banjo, and Drumitar in Eugene

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Guy Few
June 3
The Shedd, Eugene

Classical trumpet ace Few, who invigorated so many Oregon Bach Festival concerts with his sterling tone and virtuosity, guest stars in Chamber Music Amici’s 10th anniversary show. Eugene classical music vets Sharon Schuman (violins), Lillie Manis (viola), Steven Pologe (cello) and Tyler Abbot (bass) join him in Impressions de l’Alameda, composed by fellow Canadian Mathieu Lussier, who conducts two of Canada’s finest historically informed ensembles, Les Violons du Roy chamber orchestra and Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra. Few commissioned him and a few other Great North composers to write music for the Canadian Concerto Project, and Lussier’s sparkling contribution to that album, which he’ll play at The Shedd, reveals a listener-friendly composer of broad appeal and deep historical musical influences. The program also features Few on piano, joining the band in Schubert’s famous “Trout” Piano Quintet.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
June 4
The Shedd, Eugene

A roots-influenced composer with wide ranging interests (including a banjo concerto he played with the Oregon Symphony a couple years back), banjoist/composer Béla Fleck continues to embark on various musical explorations while returning occasionally to the original lineup of the band that vaulted him to fame 30 years ago, featuring pianist/harmonica player Howard Levy, world’s greatest bassist Victor Wooten, and percussionist/Drumitarist Roy “Futureman” Wooten. Cheerfully disregarding genre boundaries, The Flecktones’ music draws on everything from classical to jazz to bluegrass to African music to electric blues to Eastern European sounds, but maintains a tunefulness and originality that make it much more than pastiche.

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