arwen myers

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 Monthly: Hot music in the cold city

Warm up your fall with saxophones, film and classical music, international virtuosi, and metallized Metroids

Are you cold yet? Have your fingers and toes and hearts and guts frozen as Winter creeps closer and you face down the end of the world? Are you ready to put on a sweater and a balaclava and drown out the chaos with frosty music and a fire in the belly?

Good! Here’s your prescription for October.

Saxomaphones

Now that you’re all sweatered up, it’s time for some hot sax. Tuesday, October 2nd–tonight!–it’s the zany trio Too Many Zooz at Crystal Ballroom, wherein baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Doe, and drummer David “King of Sludge” play their stompy dancey “brass house” music. If that’s not zany enough for you, wait until tomorrow and check out skronky Skerik at Goodfoot Lounge on the 3rd. Then, at 4 in the afternoon on the 5th, head over to the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s tribute to Portland’s Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper. Or wait all the way until next week and dig local diy jazz quintet Blue Cranes at The 1905 on Sunday the 13th.

Oregon Symphony Orchestra

After a cancelled zoo concert and a weekend of Empire, the OSO’s symphonic season is officially underway. We heard from composer Oscar Bettison last week, and you’ll hear all about his rewilded music (performed last weekend alongside Mozart and Brahms) from Charles Rose soon enough. This month, the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi continues into full fall mode with concerts of music all over the “classical” map, from film music to Stravinsky to Coldfuckingplay.

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MusicWatch Weekly: sax attacks!

Saxophonic sensations ensorcel Oregon stages, Astoria Music Festival opens, and more classical and jazz sounds highlight this week’s concert scene

A squadron of saxophone sorcerers descends on Oregon’s music scene this week, many combining jazz with classical influences.

Soweto Kinch plays and raps Thursday.

British saxman and MC Soweto Kinch has been blending jazz, funk, hip hop and poetry in original ways for years, garnering a passel of prizes in the UK and Europe for both his instrumental mastery and his compelling compositions. Fans of all those genres and those who dismiss pigeonholes should check out his shows at Portland’s Jack London Revue Thursday.

Also thanks to PDX Jazz, two more sterling saxophonists, Lewis & Clark College alum Tim Berne and Chris Speed, join Bad Plus bassist and drummer Reid Anderson and Dave King in a tribute to 1960s jazz avant garde legends Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, and Dewey Redman in Broken Shadows’s concert Friday at Portland’s Old Church.

And on Saturday, PDX Jazz brings young Norwegian sax phenom Marius Neset to the Old Church. Influenced by sources from Grieg to Radiohead, his trio music also seems to channel ’80s jazz sax masters like Michael Brecker.

Saxophone doesn’t always mean jazz. Portland saxophonist and ArtsWatch contributor Patrick McCulley has demonstrated his excellence in composed contemporary classical music (at Cascadia Composers, Classical Revolution PDX, March Music Moderne, Creative Music guild and elsewhere) as well as his own original improvs and creations using circular breathing, multiphonics, growling and other extended techniques. He’s recording an album of new compositions for solo saxophone and will give us a taste in a Saturday performance at Portland’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3880 SE Brooklyn St.

Patrick McCulley premiers new compositions Saturday.

That same night at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, in an Astoria Music Festival concert, you can hear Los Angeles Opera Orchestra saxophonist Chika Inoue, violinist Olivia Tsui and cellist Rowena Hammill playing classical sax masterpieces by Debussy, Milhaud, Leonard Bernstein, and the world premiere of a new piece by Todd Mason, Daybreak, commissioned by the festival.

Idit Shner plays standards at Eugene’s Jazz Station.

University of Oregon music prof Idit Shner plays and teaches both jazz and classical music. She’s performed many of the classical saxophone standards with symphony orchestras in Israel (source of many terrific contemporary jazz musicians) and also commissioned and performed contemporary post-classical music for smaller ensembles. Her Quartet plays American songbook standards Saturday at Eugene’s Jazz Station. And if your sax jones still isn’t satiated after this week, well, there’s always Portland’s Quadrophonnes June 30 at Alberta Street Public House.

Jazz doesn’t always mean saxophone. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker brings his own, funkier yet still original New Breed quartet (which, yes, includes saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi) to Portland’s Mission Theater Wednesday.

Another jazz guitar star, Fareed Haque, has recorded for jazz’s esteemed Blue Note label, worked with Dave Holland, Joe Henderson and other legends, even taught jazz studies at Northern Illinois University. But he also teaches classical guitar there, has played all the major classical guitar concertos and worked with early music authority Stephen Stubbs, the Vermeer Quartet and many symphony orchestras, as well as Sting.

Fareed Haque gets funky Thursday.

The Pakistani / Chilean virtuoso has played in Latin bands, studied various South Asian musical forms, and added tabla (as well as DJ) to his ‘70s fusion-drenched jazz ensemble. Plus, thanks to his work with his band Garaj Mahal, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and others, he’s a player on the jamband scene. He’s in at least three other bands. But the name of the band he’s bringing to Jack London Revue Thursday, Funk Bros (not the Motown guys) shows what Haque’s up to now.

Like Kinch, GoGo Penguin has been imbuing British jazz with outside influences, mostly various species of electronica, yet performed by an acoustic piano trio. Their sparkling sounds appear on Blue Note records but have also cheekily upstaged Philip Glass by touring their own soundtrack to Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi. They’re playing with the always fun Portland duo Korgy & Bass Sunday at Portland’s Revolution Hall.

Despite the title, you’ll find some saxophone at Matt Hannafin’s CD release show John Cage: Four Realizations for Solo Percussion Wednesday at Portland’s Performance Works Northwest. Along with Hannafin’s percussion, you’ll hear Lee Elderton on sax and clarinet, fellow Creative Music Guild stalwarts Brandon Conway and Branic Howard on guitars, and singer Margaret McNeal, and see dancers Emily Jones and Taka Yamamoto in music by Cage and fellow mid-20th century modernists Christian Wolff and Toshi Ichiyanagi, now probably better known as Yoko Ono’s first husband than for his intriguing avant garde music.

Classical

Fear No Music has commendably devoted its splendid season to contemporary classical music that squarely addresses the social issues that confront us today. Thursday’s noontime Worldwide Welcome bonus concert presents “new music from countries across the world that have been recently maligned and misunderstood in our national conversation,” including Arturo Corrales of El Salvador (​Folk You, Too​ for piccolo, violin, and piano), Joshua Uzoigwe of Nigeria (​Ukom​ for piano and hand drum), and Haitian-American Nathalie Joachim’s ​Aware​ for solo flute and electronics. Singer Arwen Myers stars in the Portland premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s ​Presidential Address.

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Portland Baroque Orchestra & Trinity Cathedral Choir review: wise compromises

Performance of J.S. Bach’s immortal Mass in b minor deftly balanced historical authenticity with practical necessity

By BRUCE BROWNE

There are a few works of art whose merit is not debatable. J.S. Bach’s b minor Mass is one of these.

Yet this masterpiece is rarely performed as its composer probably intended. Various factors — choice of venue, availability of historically accurate performers and instruments, etc. — often require today’s performers to make compromises between original intention and modern practicality. Armed with best practices, conscientious performers pursue historically informed performance, not re-enactments. We then must concede the possibility of resolving difficulties of balance, nuance and tempi.

Under the lucid leadership of distinguished British conductor David Hill last weekend, the combined forces of the Trinity Cathedral Choir, the Portland Baroque Orchestra and five excellent soloists made the right choices. (See my interview with Mr. Hill below.) The value of this performance in the Trinity Music series – to singers, audience, the preservation of the choral arts and to the glory of God through music – was manifold.

Trinity Cathedral Choir and Portland Baroque Orchestra performed J.S. Bach’s ‘Mass in b Minor.’ Photo: Howard Luce.

The arias and duets were something special. Mr. Hill had at his disposal a stellar counter tenor, Daniel Moody; stentorian baritone Jesse Blumberg; the jewel-voiced local soprano Arwen Myers; German-born tenor Nils Neubert; and versatile soprano Estelí Gomez. Each of these singers carries a lengthy resumé of wide-ranging credentials, nationally and internationally.

In the aria “Quoniuam tu solus sanctus” (For you alone are holy), Mr. Blumberg was fulsome in tone, his voice cutting through the cathedral with well honed vowels. His principal Quoniam partner, horn player Andrew Clark, was quite simply the best I’ve heard in this piece, playing his part flawlessly, and without score.

Countertenor Moody possesses a refulgent tone, and was irresistible in his aria “Qui Sedes ad dexteram Patris” (You who sit at the right hand of the Father). This is a major talent; I was grateful that a real countertenor (as opposed to female alto) was Hill’s choice. More about that in a bit.

Ms. Myers sang with a sterling silver patina throughout, especially effective in the duets “Christe eleison” (Christ have mercy), with Ms. Gomez, and later “Domine Deus” (Lord God, King of Heaven) with Mr. Neubert. The latter pair were well matched, along with flutist Janet See, in phrasing and articulation. Mr. Neubert was also effective in the penultimate aria, “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord). In the “Laudamus te” (We praise you) Ms. Gomez confronted the challenges of matching the sparkling crisp 32nd-note duplets and runs in the violin, played expertly by Carla Moore.

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Portland Symphonic Choir review: magnificent melange

Triumphant Oregon premiere of composer John Muehleisen's massive 'Pieta' combines varied musical styles and poetry to respond to social ills

By BRUCE BROWNE

John Muehleisen 90-minute Pieta is a mélange – in a good way – of all sorts of musical gestures: Byzantine chant; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hymnody; Bulgarian hymns; and familiar chorale tunes, many based on tunes melodies from J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Too, there is plentiful use of borrowed music, from a Civil War song by George F. Root to quotations from Bach, and a short motif from early baroque composer Antonio Caldara’s Stabat Mater. Muehleisen is certainly an equal opportunity borrower.

Since its Seattle premiere in 2012, Pieta has received several significant performances and, is receiving nationwide recognition. The composer was on hand to participate in and to witness Portland Symphonic Choir‘s rousing performance of its Oregon premiere in First United Methodist Church, on the last Saturday and Sunday afternoons in October.

Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy sang with Portland Symphonic Choir. Photo: Toni Wise.

An opportunity was missed, since Mr. Muehleisen was in residence with the choir most of the preceding week. Why not offer a pre-concert encounter sometime earlier in the evening/day? I loved what the composer had to say about his work; it was enlightening, and important. But this forced a 4:20 PM downbeat for the concert. Still, what followed was well worth it— for Muehleisen, for the guest conductor Erick Lichte, for the Portland Symphonic Choir and soloists Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy.

Soprano soloist Myers was radiant in the role of the Mother of Jesus, and probably, a universal mother to all. Her part demands a sprawling range, and an armor-piercing tone at times, all beautifully executed. In character throughout, Myers came through it all with a perfect aplomb, and pitch perfect musicianship.

Tenor soloist Tuohy has a silvery toned delivery. He too met most of the challenges of the score, but occasionally fought with the pitch center. After he returned to the stage following a dramatic exit in the first half of the show, the voice was perfectly in command.

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Fear No Music & Third Angle reviews: discoveries

Portland new music ensembles open Oregon ears to music from beyond the usual sources

I love going to a concert with exactly zero familiar composers. In Oregon classical music programs, the standard is still usually one new composer per concert, sandwiched between the dead white guys. Even in Portland, it’s relatively rare to hear a concert with music by composers who are all new to me. In the last few weeks, veteran Portland new music ensembles Fear No Music and Third Angle delivered two such concerts that led me to new discoveries.

Fear No Music played recent music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: John Rudoff.

FNM’s October 9 concert at Portland’s Old Church, The Fertile Crescent, featured music by six composers rooted in the Middle East. Although they were new to me, they are all accomplished international composers. Gity Razaz studied at Juilliard with Corigliano, Beaser, and Adler; Kinan Azmeh is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; Reza Vali, Kareem Roustom, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh have all composed for Kronos Quartet (I’m sure they’ll get around to Bahaa El-Ansary eventually). Although the music performed at the concert didn’t always satisfy me, I liked most of it, and the pieces that left me cold still led me to discover other enjoyable music by the same composers.

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Northwest Art Song, Susan Graham reviews: women in and out of love

The Ensemble and Friends of Chamber Music present two vocal concerts featuring old and new songs about the female experience of love

by JEFF WINSLOW

Of all the ways composers scoop up gulps of whatever universal river of music flows through the human soul and shape them into works, my favorite is probably the art song. At its best, an art song is a miraculous thing, a happy ménage à trois of compelling soundscape, absorbing lyrics – and not least, beautiful singing, something that depends on the composer and all the other musicians in on the game as well as the singer. (This does not in any way exclude the work of people who prefer to think of themselves as songwriters. A hit doesn’t need much art, and art doesn’t need to be a hit, but at wonderful times they do indeed come in the same package.)

In recent years, Portland has attracted a welcome stream of excellent singers, who fill the ranks of, and even direct, organizations devoted to art song as well as choral music. Two singers who recently commanded my delighted attention, soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, happen to be the artistic directors of Northwest Art Song. They also perform regularly with top local vocal groups such as The Ensemble of Oregon. For the opening concert of The Ensemble’s season, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” which I caught two weeks ago last Sunday afternoon at downtown Portland’s First Christian Church (repeated from the previous evening in Eugene), they put together an absorbing show exploring many kinds of love, exclusively from a woman’s point of view: all music and lyrics were written and performed entirely by women. Not only that, the music was utterly of our time, mostly written in the last two years, the oldest written at the cusp of the millennium.

Northwest Art Song performed women’s music in Eugene and Portland. Photo: Cory Niedfeldt.

Naturally with any collection of new work, there were misses as well as hits, but they opened with a stunner, Hyacinth Curl by Kati Agócs, who visited Portland last summer when her piano trio Queen of Hearts was performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Agócs put the lyrics together from Sufi devotional poetry (possibly written around 1830) by early 19th century Iranian noblewoman and mystic Bibi Hayati. As with claims that the Song of Solomon expresses religious devotion, you could have fooled me. Myers’s and Thoreson’s sinuous lines wrapped around each other, aptly expressing the lyrics’ barely concealed eroticism, with only an occasional handbell for punctuation. At the most charged moments, the women’s duet trailed off into silence, and after almost unbearable anticipation, the next stroke of the handbell was perfectly placed (that is, pitched) for maximum (aural) pleasure.

There was probably no way Abbie Betinis’s The Clan of the Lichens, on the equally mystical but almost asexual nature-loving texts of Opal Whiteley, could keep up this kind of interest, but the five-song set showed off Myers’s abilities to great advantage, and at their best were engaging and effective. “All Things Live” was one standout, with Myers ripping out fast, digitally precise scales and other vocal fireworks, popping off a couple of high D’s as if they were the easiest thing in the world. Even more attractive was the off-kilter, halting waltz “A Tale for Children and Taller Ones,” which dusted the cleverest lyrics and most colorful piano writing of the set with another dash of delicious musical acrobatics from Myers.

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