art resnick

Oregon Rites of Spring 1: Drums along the Pacific

Powered by percussion, the West Coast's adventurous musical legacy continues in spring Oregon concerts.

New York has long snagged all the attention as the creative center of American music. But a quintessential New Yorker (from The New Yorker, no less) reminded us recently that much of the impulse for American music’s creativity originated right here on the West Coast. As I explained a few years ago, “a little attention to history reveals that many, if not most, of America’s major postwar musical innovations actually originated here on the West Coast and spread east in a kind of reverse migration that energized NYC, rather than vice versa.”

This spring’s and summer Oregon concert seasons have sparkled with new music by West Coast and other American composers. One of those shows established a context that helps explain West Coast music’s trailblazing creativity, and several others revealed how it’s continuing now in 21st century Oregon. Even as the region suffers from historic drought, its musical wellsprings continue to flow abundantly.

Cascadia Composers percussion concert.

Cascadia Composers percussion concert.

I’ve never seen such a profusion of Oregon music over so long a stretch, so I attended as many concerts as possible (though I missed several that included contemporary Oregon music) to see what this snapshot revealed about contemporary classical music in Oregon 2015. I initially planned to end the survey in April — but the Oregon music just kept pouring forth, as new concerts were announced that also featured works by Oregon composers. That continuing abundance alone is a most welcome sign for anyone who cherishes homegrown music. But it also reveals some neglected areas still in need of exploration.

In this first of a three part series, we’ll look at concerts that perpetuated Harrison and Cage’s West Coast percussion legacy. Part 2 covers concerts that sprinkled Oregon music among sounds that originated elsewhere, and the third installment focuses on concerts devoted to showcasing the work of one Oregon composer, and a wrap up that draws some conclusions based on this rich spring sampling of Oregon contemporary classical music.

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Cascadia Composers review: Strange Brew

Ingredients for a full fun house

by MARIA CHOBAN

The impresario ushers me in. “It’s chaos in there,” he twitches. “Of course it is,” I smile. Dan Brugh, mad scientist of concert presenting for Cascadia Composers, isn’t smiling. He turns and chases someone I’ve never seen in this organization, holding a wastepaper basket full of white sausage-like stuffed alien animals I’ve also never seen in this organization. Composers At Play: New Art Music That Has Some Serious Fun with Improvisation is the title of tonight’s event. If it were going smoothly and everything was under control, it wouldn’t be improv now, would it?

 

He’s a witch of trouble in electric blue

In his own mad mind he’s in love with you, with you

[The Audience!]

(“Strange Brew” – Cream) 

For this show, Brugh (pronounced “brew”), like any smart presenter targeting a general audience, set the scene for a family friendly concert with the venue he chose, southeast Portland’s Community Music Center in the middle of a family friendly neighborhood, and the playful graphic design he delegated to Cascadia composer and performer Jennifer Wright.

 

Jennifer Wright’s program designed for Cascadia Composers At Play concert.

Jennifer Wright’s program designed for Cascadia Composers At Play concert.

But that alone doesn’t account for the bewitched behavior of the evening: Composers laughed and played and gushed over fussing kids, performers loosened up and showed spontaneous comedic sides and toddlers danced. Brugh’s uncanny instincts for figuring out what audiences — not just performers — need is what makes his Cascadia shows so successful.

Not every concert — not any concert – can be like this one. But anyone can learn from it some things that make concerts of original music more likely to please even the youngest, toughest critics. What was Brugh’s secret love potion #9?

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Pianos — including this "skeleton piano"  — took center stage at two March Music Moderne concerts last week.

Pianos — including this “skeleton piano” — took center stage at two March Music Moderne concerts last week.

By JANA HANCHETT

“What I care about is telling a story,” said pianist Jennifer Wright after last week’s Piano Bizarro concert. “I was getting bored of becoming a technical machine. How interesting is that to me or anyone else? In my concerts I want to present the story of the music in some sort of context that makes it meaningful so that people learn something, have fun, and go home wanting to share how the experience changed them. These little ripples make a huge difference cumulatively.”

Presented by Cascadia Composers at Portland’s Michelle’s Piano Company as part of March Music Moderne, Piano Bizarro was a tidal wave of, yes, bizarre sounds created by toy pianos, amplified harpsichord, prepared piano, percussion, music boxes, electronic delay effects, four people on one piano, and four pianos played all at once.

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Chamber Music Amici play Baroque music in Springfield Monday

If it’s Baroque music you crave, Eugene’s the place to be this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday at First Christian Church, the Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra lights up the candles and goes Baroque in their annual intimate concert of 18th century music, this time featuring a J.S. Bach cantata and appealing concerti by Vivaldi, Handel, and Locatelli. On Monday, Springfield’s excellent Chamber Music Amici (consisting mostly of present and former Eugene Symphony players and/or UO faculty members) play the famous trio sonata from Bach’s magnificent Musical Offering and delicious works by three other Baroque masters:Telemann, Rameau, and Leclair. Both concerts will feature modern players using historical practices and in some cases authentic bows and even instruments.

Also in Eugene, former NBC TV anchorman Tom Brokaw joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall Tuesday to narrate Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, part of an excellent all-American program that also features Copland’s The Promise of Living (from his opera, The Tender Land), William Schuman’s New England Triptych, and most impressively, John Adams’s  moving commemoration of the victims of the September 11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls. And the University Symphony plays music by the greatest of film composers, Bernard Herrmann on Sunday at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That Eugene Symphony concert is part of the orchestra’s multifaceted look at war and our responses to it. That’s also the theme of the Oregon Symphony’s new CD (review coming soon), which recorded last May’s program at the Schnitzer and Carnegie Hall. The concept continues this weekend at the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday and Sunday concerts (at Portland’s First Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater, respectively), featuring Samuel Barber’s powerful Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony #3, and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings — all composed in response to war or its approach.

Eugeneans and other Oregon Bach Festival patrons who enjoyed German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s performances this summer can see him take the solo spotlight in Sergey Prokofiev’s cello concerto-turned Symphony Concerto, composed for the great 20th century cellist Msistislav Rostropovich at the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland choral music fans face a difficult choice among very different yet all appealing programs. On Saturday, you could hear the great Cappella Romana perform the hellacious Byzantine liturgical drama The Service of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, at Northwest Portland’s St Mary’s Cathedral. Or you could soak in the sublime music of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Christopher Tye at Cantores in Ecclesia’s concert at St. Stephen’s church in SE Portland. Both are part of the Journey To Light festival comprising concerts, talks, tours and more, organized by an especially industrious high school student, Katherine Brafford.

Or, you could join Portland’s Consonare Chorale, with violinist Cecilia Archuleta and pianist Jon Stuber, in contemporary settings of great poetry by Emerson, Frost, cummings, Yeats and more by current (Joan Syzmko) and former (Morten Lauridsen) Portlanders, hot choral composer and model Eric Whitacre, and others — including Adam Steele, who can’t be there because he’ll be singing across town with Cappella Romana! Or catch Satori Men’s Chorus at Portland’s Old Church, singing music by composers from Burt Bacharach to Randall Thompson. All these concerts look intriguing, but you can only make one of them. The choral scene in Portland is that rich.

Portland’s Peace Choir starts the Saturday singing off at 5 pm with a concert at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, while The Julians, an all-star aggregation of female choristers from around the city, finish the weekend with Sunday afternoon’s concert at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish in downtown Portland. They bring their classically trained voices to music by Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bjork, Brahms, John Lennon and more, all focused on the differing gender perspectives on relationships.

Contemporary music fans with jazz tendencies (or vice versa) might check out composer Art Resnick’s bimusical concert at Portland’s Community Music Center. The first half features his contemporary post classical compositions, played by classical musicians including pianist Maria Choban, while the second showcases the pianist/composer’s jazz trio performing improvised music you’d expect from a musician who played with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Nat Adderley, and others. Proceeds benefit the valuable Cascadia Composers organization.

Chamber music aficionados in Portland can catch Portland State University’s great 35-year-old Florestan Trio and guests playing music by Dvorak, Mozart and Schumann, on Sunday afternoon at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Or the 5Tet woodwind quintet playing Brahms, a world premiere and more Saturday at Tigard’s United Methodist Church. Or violinists Tatiana Kolchanova and Mary Rowell playing Prokofiev, Bartok and more Sunday afternoon in First Presbyterian Church’s always attractive Celebration Works series, now celebrating its first decade. Alas, Portland Piano International’s recommended Monday recital by Roman Rabinovitch is sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to satisfy your classical music jones this weekend.

And if the choices are so paralyzing that you just want stay home, and you missed Lara Downes’s excellent set of newly written (by a baker’s dozen of contemporary composers) variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations  performed at Portland International Piano Festival this summer, Portland’s essential all classical radio station‘s unmissable Club Mod show will be playing Downes’s recently issued CD of that music Saturday night, along with music by the superb new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The shows are archived on the station website for two weeks.