Anima Mundi Productions

Derek Chauvin, George Floyd & the art of crisis

ArtsWatch Weekly: A Portland Oscar nod; Dawson Carr's big day; diving into dance; conversation with a laureate; musical BRAVO; fish tales

ON TUESDAY, THE BIGGEST CULTURAL NEWS OF THE WEEK – maybe the biggest since the January 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital – came down. Derek Chauvin, who almost a year ago, as a Minneapolis police officer, pressed the life out of George Floyd with his knee, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. It was a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the killing of a citizen – even, as with Floyd, of an unarmed citizen – and it seems, at least for now, to have topped off a year and more of intense cultural division. Any other decision by the jury most likely would have set off a firestorm across the nation.

The political and cultural fissures of the past year have pulled the arts & cultural world into the fray, perhaps inevitably: If art reflects its culture, how can it possibly stay uninvolved? In Portland, public statues have come tumbling down and institutions have been under attack: Two men were arrested and charged with smashing another $10,000 or more worth of windows at the frequently targeted Oregon Historical Society during rioting last Friday. The window-smashing and other acts of destruction came during protests against recent national killings of Black citizens by police, and a police killing in Portland’s Lents Park of a man with a history of mental illness.

George Floyd was the focus of a Black Lives Matter mural painted by Emma Berger and others last year at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Place.

In the past year a rapid growth of public protest art has transformed the sides of many buildings in the city and the plywood covering boarded-up storefronts. Across the nation, in arts and cultural organizations large and small, racial equity has become the issue of the day, an overdue conversation in search of action, and an issue that is unlikely to be resolved by a single decision in a single courtroom on a single day.

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The soul of humanity and the fate of the planet are intertwined

Raising environmental awareness through music with Anima Mundi

Scene from 'A Time For Life.' Photo by Robert Kyr.
Scene from ‘A Time For Life.’ Photo by Robert Kyr.

An exciting array of artists is featured in the Ashland-based Anima Mundi Productions Heart of Humanity concert series this spring, including the choral ensemble Cappella Romana, Third Angle New Music, soprano Estelí Gomez, guitarist Colin Davin, and the HEX Vocal Ensemble. The series, now in its second season, began on April 18 with the world premiere of Robert Kyr’s new film, A Time For Life, an environmental oratorio performed by Cappella Romana and Third Angle New Music. The webcast of this beautiful choral work highlights Anima Mundi’s stated mission to bring audiences “… the power of the arts to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social and environmental problems.”

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A Healing Journey Through Song

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura and Ashland’s Heart of Humanity series

At the end of a recent concert at Southern Oregon University, some of the audience left in tears. Certainly, all were deeply moved by baritone Christòpheren Nomura’s voluptuous rendering of a program spanning the centuries from early Romantic to the present moment. The January 12 concert, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity For All,” was the second in the three-concert Heart of Humanity series presented by Anima Mundi Productions, a non-profit arts organization in Southern Oregon.

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Hearts of Humanity. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.
Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Heart of Humanity’s January concert in Ashland. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.

The organization’s mission is to “create, promote, and produce new musical works that harness the power of the arts to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social and environmental problems.” Co-founders composer Ethan Gans-Morse and poet Tiziana DellaRovere believe that the arts provide a vehicle for healing, and that when a person’s soul is healed and their heart is touched, a piece of the entire world is healed because we are all connected. 

Oregon ArtsWatch contributor Gary Ferrington has written about the first concert in this series, Peace Through Music, as well as the composer-librettist team’s two operas (see Ferrington’s “Finding Hope Through Music” and “Composer Ethan Gans-Morse: Music as Social Voice.”) 

Toward intimacy on the concert stage

This concert series represents a shift away from large performances like opera to the concert stage, which the producers have designed to be more intimate and interactive than the usual concert setting. Mr. Nomura accomplished their intent skillfully with humor and charm, chatting about the music between numbers and leaving the audience lights part-way up so that he could see faces. He talked about several of the pieces and told relevant stories, some of them self-deprecating anecdotes from his own life. At the end of the concert there was a discussion period, for which most of the audience stayed.

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