45th Parallel Universe

MusicWatch Weekly: What (else) is going on?

ARCO turns up, Geter turns on, “Kevin” takes the night off

Last week we talked all about how everyone should be making albums right now, and hopefully you all nodded your heads and muttered, “hell yeah!” Okay, good, we’re happy to have you on board. You know what you can do to make that happen? You can support the artists who will make it happen–by supporting what they’re doing right now.

And what are they doing right now? Well, the big news on our desk today is ARCO-PDX performing Beethoven in Pioneer Square at 6:30 this Saturday evening (tomorrow!), playing for–ahem—whoever happens to be downtown just then, all while keeping distant in local artist Bill Will’s Polka Dot Courthouse Square installation.

ARCO says:

Thanks to technological advances, passersby will be able to enjoy the music either from their seats on the semicircular steps, or by weaving their way through the players for a one-of-a-kind immersive experience!

This is clearly the exact right ensemble for Polka Dot Square: among other things, the “amplified” part helps a ton when you’re not only outside but six feet away from the other players, and the “repertory” part helps when the point of the concert is not about building the repertoire but putting it to use.

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MusicWatch Weekly: 0 brave new world

In which we lament Geter’s Requiem, remember Menomena, and set Kevin down on the PDX Couch

Caveat lector: this is a long’n, dear reader, as we begin to unpack the reality sandwich and lay the groundwork for our digital decalogue

That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited, that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.

Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell (1956)

There are some who say we’ve been screwed ever since Gutenburg invented the printing press. Others, like Socrates, go further and blame the written word itself. Some even go so far as to label Western Civilization itself Faustian, for its technological fascinations and its devil-may-care, “can do, must do” attitude. And although we have begun, relatively recently, to see the beginnings of a new mindset in things like the appropriate tech and organic gardening movements of the seventies, those are only the seeds of what comes after. For now, we’ve still got an apocalypse to get through.

As any disaster capitalist can tell you, every crisis is also an opportunity. This month, we’re looking at our increasingly irrelevant calendars and lamenting the Damien Geter African-American Requiem we recently didn’t get to go hear performed by Resonance Ensemble at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Beautiful Downtown Portland. We’re still smarting from March’s interrupted Caroline Shaw residency, and last month we were supposed to be at The North Warehouse for the premiere of Darrell Grant’s 3A-commissioned Sanctuaries.

Last weekend, we were supposed to be hanging out with 45th Parallel Universe and two of our favorite living composers: Andy Akiho and Gabriella Smith, whose work was on the bill for what would have been another wonderful Old Church concert. And just this past Monday we would have been back at TOC for Fear No Music’s “Haters Gonna Hate” concert, listening to Michael Roberts and Amelia Lukas play the big bad scary music of Morton Feldman and Edgard Varèse.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Welcome to Digital Heaven

Hermit like a champ with Oregon’s virtualocal superstars

These days we’re toggling between two extremes: on the one hand, digitally mediated mass socialization via zoom, youtube, social media, and all the rest of the burgeoning digital (after)life; on the other hand, some truly next-level hermit action in the form of baking, yoga, quilting, meditation, prayer, journaling, self-reflection, self-recording, and the simple joy of sitting and catching up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read since, like, the eighties.

Of course, most of us are splitting the difference one way or another–for instance, we know dozens of musicians who are spending their quarantine listening to and sharing their favorite albums, a perfect example of how a fundamentally isolated endeavor can be transmuted into an eminently social experience. Same goes, mutatis mutandis, for book clubs and TV show binge-watching parties (let me know if I can spoil Battlestar Galactica for you).

We’ll be talking in some depth about this nascent digital afterlife starting next week, when we’ll discuss: 45th Parallel Universe’s new friend Kevin; defunct Portland cyberpunk indie trio Menomena; recent and timely Matrixy entertainment like Devs, Westworld, and Upload; and media guru Douglas Rushkoff’s “Ten Commands for a Digital Age.” That’s all in the first of several new series we schemers at ArtsWatch have planned for your next few months of quarantined music reading. Stay tuned.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Virtual Classical

Deprived of live shows, Oregon musicians take their talents to the interwebs

Oregon musical performances may be suspended, but Oregon music plays on. Oregon classical musicians aren’t letting a little thing like a deadly pandemic and total cancellation of live performances stop them from bringing the sounds. Tonight, Friday May 8, at 10 pm, for example, the latest worthy project from 45th Parallel Universe, Portland Social Distance Ensemble, debuts with a performance of that seminal (or, as one of my fellow feminist friends used to say, “ovular”) work of contemporary classical music, Terry Riley’s In C. Tune in at their Facebook livestream or YouTube livestream.

45th Parallel musicians perform live on the internet Friday

The eight musicians will be playing live, in real time, from six different houses, all in sync through the magic of what must be a really fast internet connection to overcome the latency problem that plagues so many attempts at simultaneous playing from scattered locations. “We’ve built a live digital platform that allows us to collaborate remotely online,” enthuses 45th Parallel’s Ron Blessinger. “No one else is doing anything even close to this. This is as close to a live performance as anyone is able to do with players playing in their own homes. Next, we’ll try it with players in Poland and Holland too.”

Riley’s proto-minimalist masterpiece is a canny choice for this test run, as it allows the individual musicians a degree of latitude that makes absolute precision not quite as important to the musical outcome. 45th Parallel plans to repeat it, with a different program each Friday from 6-6:30 pm, at the same websites above. Next week’s program by the organization’s Pyxis string quartet includes music by two of America’s greatest living composers, Philip Glass and George Crumb, and more.

PSDE is a commendably bold and fascinating experiment, so do have a little patience with this debut performance, and join us in admiration for their willingness to take a risk. Tough times demand bold responses. 

Like so many other Oregon classical performers, 45th Parallel had to cancel its spring shows, so it’s nice to see them bouncing back undaunted. They’re not the only musicians livestreaming events this month.

• Legendary Portland club team DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid celebrate the seven-year anniversary of their Tropitaal Desi Latino Soundclash party over livestream  next Saturday, May 16.

• On May 22, Portland State University’s Sonic Arts and Music Production’s Laptop Ensemble will livestream several new quarantine-appropriate pieces, including Social Distance, a live music performance with 20 networked laptops, and Inside Voices, a pre-recorded piece written in series by the ensemble. This one, sponsored by the vital Portland club Holocene, requires a ticket purchase.

• Portland’s Creative Music Guild has moved its fascinating Outset Series online, starting a series of live streamed shows this month via its YouTube channel. Next up: Jamondria Harris this Tuesday, May 12. It’s an excellent way to get familiar with a vital but hard-to-describe segment of Portland’s less conventional music scene.

We’ll do our best to keep you apprised of others — please let us know about other Oregon livestream music at music@orartswatch.org. Meanwhile, here are some other — what shall we call online presentations of chats and archived performances, as opposed to the livestream concerts listed above? “Deadstreams” sounds a little harsh….

• On May 8, 9 and 10, Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Center’s Creative Quarantine Studio program present a Siletz Bay Music Mini Festival smorgasbord featuring jazz, classical, chamber and family offerings with some of the festival’s favorite artists,  including jazz clarinet master Ken Peplowski, pianist Rosanno Sportiello, artistic director Yaacov Bergman, cellist Nancy Ives, pianist Mei Ting Sun, violist Miriam Ward English and her family, and more.

• Also this weekend, KWAX (FM 91.1) re-broadcasts the Eugene Symphony’s January 23 concert featuring music by Missy Mazzoli, Brahms and Sibelius. You can also see a video of the Eugene Symphony’s photo-enhanced Four Seasons of the McKenzie River concert from February on YouTube. 

• ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong has been offering weekly online Watch Parties in which he talks about classical music masterpieces and instruments. You can catch up on past episodes on his YouTube channel, and the series resumes at month’s end, when he returns with new episodes from his childhood home in Boulder, where he and his fiancé are sheltering.

• On May 11, Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar is starting his own series of weekly chats, Mondays with the Maestro, accessible on Artslandia website or Facebook.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Director Raúl Gomez hosts a daily YouTube show “MYS Virtual Hangouts” from Tuesday-Friday at 4pm on the MYS YouTube Channel. He and guests (so far including Oregon Symphony Artist-in-Residence Johannes Moser and principal cellist Nancy Ives, composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Kenji Bunch, and more) chat about life stories, musical advice and even include world premiere collaborations with local artists.

• For audio-only streams, check Portland’s essential classical music resource, All Classical FM, whose Andrea Murray devoted the current episode of her valuable Club Mod program — streaming for the next two weeks — to Portland composers), while Christa Wessel’s excellent Thursdays @ 3 program is bringing live performances from Oregon musicians’ home studios. Cellist Diane Chaplin, singer Arwen Myers and Oregon Symphony flutist Martha Long’s performances are currently available, as are recordings of earlier live performances on the station’s Played in Oregon program by Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music Northwest. 

• The Creative Music Guild‘s Extradition Series has started a Social Distancing Project, with videos of performances recorded during the current period of isolation by some of Portland’s most accomplished improvising musicians.

• You can also find pre-pandemic performances of Oregon music streaming at Cascadia Composers YouTube channel. Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana offer online recordings of their recent concerts on YouTube, the University of Oregon is releasing archived concerts from Beall Concert Hall, and many other Oregon music institutions are streaming videos of earlier performances or even home-grown (more literally than ever) current music making, like Artslandia’s happy hours

This is far from a comprehensive list. Check your own favorite organization or band’s website often to see what online offerings, from playlists to archived concerts and more, might appear in this fast-changing environment. Since most is free to stream, think of this troubled moment as an opportunity to virtually test-drive Oregon music makers you’ve missed or never gotten a chance to hear live. That way, when the live music resumes, you might have a lot more items to add to your musical agenda. And feel free to share more streaming links to Oregon music in the comments section below. 

News & Notes

Meanwhile, the cascade of classical cancellations continues. The latest series to fall victim to the virus: Chamber Music Northwest, which yesterday announced cancellation of its upcoming spring concerts and all Summer Festival concerts and events — a bitter pill for what would have been the 50th anniversary season of one of Oregon’s most valuable classical music events.

But CMNW won’t leave listeners entirely bereft. Beginning May 21 and running through June 21, All Classical Portland 89.9 FM will air a new five-part series of music and interviews from recent Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festivals on Thursdays at 7 pm, repeated on Sundays at 4 pm. The series will feature the Verona Quartet, Imani Winds, Opus 1 Piano Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and more.

Chamber Music Northwest also hosts a free Virtual Summer Festival June 22 – July 26 featuring highlights from recent seasons and special live concerts, including performances by CMNW regulars including the Emerson, Miró, and Dover Quartets, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Andre Watts, Edgar Meyer, Peter Schickele, and David Shifrin, who this summer would have celebrated 40th and final festival as artistic director. The organization earlier decided to send this summer’s scheduled musicians 50 percent of their pay for the festival immediately, to help out with pressing needs since so many have lost so many gigs, and specified that the money was theirs to keep “regardless of what happens this summer.”

• Along with CMNW and the Oregon Bach Festival, Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival canceled this August’s edition, which would have been the tenth and final season for artistic director and conductor George Hanson.

• And Jacksonville’s Britt Festival canceled its August classical music season, vowing to return in 2021 with the same lineup, including the festival orchestra’s premiere of acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw’s new experiential, site-specific Hiking the Woodlands inspired by the Jacksonville Woodland Trails. Even though this summer’s live attractions are fading fast, at least we have plenty to look forward to next year.

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45th Parallel’s real-time music video

An interview with Ron Blessinger

It’s such a weird thrill going to Oregon Symphony concerts, looking down into the string section with its fifty-odd neatly seated performers, and seeing 45th Parallel Universe Executive Director Ron Blessinger, buried in the violins, attentively warming up his bow with the rest of the office. That’s how it goes with this orchestra: scan the rest of that string section and you’ll see local composers Nancy Ives, James Shields, and usually Kenji Bunch. Up in the back, Niel DePonte tightens cymbal stands and organizes mallets. Supergroup!

In 2018, when Blessinger took the reins of local music organization 45th Parallel (founded ten years earlier by his fellow symphony violinist Greg Ewer), he immediately expanded the relatively loose-knit group into a Universe of ensembles drawn mostly from the ranks of Oregon Symphony principal players. The Parallel Universe has exploded all Marvel crossover-like in the last season and a half, with a wide range of classical music concerts all across the Old Versus New abyss. Our personal favorite highlight (so far) was 45||’s double concert last year pairing Mousai Remix’s beautifully economical black composer history lesson with a Pyxis Quartet concert featuring new work by local composers created in collaboration with local poet Micah Fletcher.

Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Seth Nehill.
Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2019. Photo by Seth Nehill.

Tonight, 45th Parallel presents the latest result of their restless creativity: Les Boréades, an evening of French music performed on a square stage inside the PICA building, two sides open to the audience and a pair of projection screens on the others. We’ve just learned that the concert is down to standing room only, which suits this eternally peripatetic music journalist just fine. Come early for a discussion of The Frame with the concert’s visual/psychological collaborators, and wear comfy shoes for your circumambulatory musical adventure.

We spoke with Blessinger by phone; his answers have been condensed and edited for flow and clarity.

On collaboration and performance space

I go way back with Brad Johnson, the lead artist. He used to be the principal of Second Story Interactive, and I did a project with him where we used existing technology to create what you could call a virtual venue. We did something similar just about 15 years ago. This time around we came up with a musical program–a survey of French music–and then we were thinking of where to perform it.

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MusicWatch Monthly: Second winter descends

Hymns, films, saxophones, French music, Local music

Oregon has two winters as well as two summers. We’ve just wrapped up First Winter: the time when it hasn’t gotten too terribly cold and miserable, holiday cheer is in the air, and everybody’s all excited for the solstice and the new year. Now that all that busyness is behind us, it’s time to hunker down for the rest of winter, the long cold dreary late morning of the soul, a grim season that seems to grind on forever and promises only the occasional snow day in compensation.

But we’re in luck: we get to ring in the Coming of Second Winter with a month of pleasantly undemanding concerts of medieval hymns, saxophone ensembles, live film music, and classical chamber music by a variety of French and Local composers. It all starts this weekend with Cappella Romana and the Hymns of Kassianë.

This weekend: nuns, saxes, oboe, and movies

“With a golden apple in his hand, Emperor Theophilos slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties; His eye was detained by the charms of Kassia, and, in the awkwardness of a first declaration the prince said that in this world, women had been the occasion of much evil,” from Eve on down. “And surely, Sir,” Kassia pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much good,” including Mary, who birthed Jesus.

Kassia’s impudence at a medieval beauty contest aimed at finding a bride for the ruler of Medieval Europe’s Eastern Empire may have cost the composer (born 810 in the Byzantine capitol Constantinople) her chance to become Byzantine empress. But it might have also sparked her to overcome the barriers female artists faced in her time—some of which remain. Kassia subsequently left the royal court, earned fame as a poet, philosopher, and activist who endured beatings and other persecution. And, like the later, more famous female medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen–she became abbess of her own convent. The Orthodox church later beatified her as St. Kassianë.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Big and small

Big bands, big choirs, chamber classical, and hybrid music from Indonesia and the British Isles

Well, I just got back from hearing Third Angle play Eve Beglarian, Lee Hyla, David Lang, and a bunch of other sweet stuff down in the cozy Jack London Revue basement underneath the billiard tables. You know how sometimes when you’re watching a big band play a long set there’ll be a few players in the corps who have some classical tricks up their sleeves, and when the rest of the band takes a break one of those soloists might come downstage and rip out a crazy impressive solo, maybe a bit of Bach or Wuorinen, the sort of stuff they don’t usually get to play in jazz clubs? 3A’s Back in the Groove was exactly like that. A whole evening of it.

Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann saved the best, grooviest, flashiest music for herself, like a boss–but like a good boss, you know? The rare type of boss who approves all your sick days, keeps meetings on topic, knows how to use Excel, and not only can fix the copier but actually does. Clarinetist James Shields and saxophonist Sean Fredenburg both killed it–the latter tearing his way through Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, the former playing Reich’s New York Counterpoint along with his own fifteen-year-old undergrad backing tracks, the pair of ’em barking at each other in Lee Hyla’s gnarly, groovy, gloriously incomprehensible We Speak Etruscan–but it was Tiedemann’s graceful performance of the fiendishly difficult (but oh so melodic!) music of Jacob TV and Eve Beglarian that had us shooting coffee out our noses in shocked delight.

Anyways, you’ll hear all about the rest of this lovely show from me soon enough. Right now you’ve got new concerts to read about–big bands and small bands and sludgey bands and tribes of singers and song collectors–and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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