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Editor’s note: ArtsWatch deployed a small squadron of reviewers to most of the Spontaneous Combustion Festival’s seven programs of new music spread over 17 concerts in three cities. Here are some of the highlights of the first edition of this valuable new addition to Oregon’s music scene. Read part one here.

Iktus Duo

Tap tap tap on the small of my back.
Fingers scratch and thrum.
Across taut skin, invisible hairs tickle.
My ears drum.

Visceral and sensual, Iktus Duo ignited the Spontaneous Combustion concert at Portland’s Classic Pianos with Joseph Pereira’s oriental Echi Dromi for doumbek and flute. James Romig’s Pynes moved percussionist Christopher Graham to the piano to play slow tag with flutist Hristina Blagoeva. Chasing each other around pitches C, D, E-flat and F, they frequently caught and held each other on unison pitches, eventually adding A, C-sharp and ending on B. Conceptual and very flirty.

Enough foreplay! James Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion banged a gong for ten minutes. Well, actually tickled it, coaxing an unrelenting crescendo toward a thundering climax. Forget about rolling over and going to sleep, Tenney and Graham milked ten more minutes of slow decrescendo shudders before allowing us to collapse into intermission.

Iktus Duo

After the sensuality and sexuality of the conceptual first half, Eric Moe’s cute Gong Tormented felt as cartoonish as 50 Shades of Grey following the Marquis de Sade’s acute Juliette. But the closer, Lou Harrison’s First Concerto for Flute and Percussion, redeemed itself to me. I heard the 21-year-old Portland-born composer’s 1939 piece live at last summer’s CeLOUbration and thought it was lame, not realizing it was a lame performance. Here, Iktus Duo, like everyone I saw and heard at all five Spontaneous Combustion concerts I attended, not only exuded confidence with solid performances, they also imbued them with tons of personality. — Maria Choban

Portland pianist Maria Choban, ArtsWatch’s Oregon ArtsBitch, blogs at CatScratch.

Orlando Cela

A whole concert featuring a single wind instrument might sound sparse. But in Orlando Cela’s able hands and imagination, a flute becomes a world orchestra. In his mesmerizing Indian-flavored 2016 composition Rag Lalit, which opened Cela’s solo recital at Portland’s Old Church, the Boston flutist used his right hand to tap out percussion patterns on the barrel while fingering the melody with his left; a shruti box provided a drone harmony. Kyle Rowan’s 2015 Komorebi used a shakuhachi sonority in a completely contemporary and American style, the spare flute phrases dappling the space like sunlight filtered through a leafy canopy. The Old Church acoustic provided the ideal sonic space between sparse notes.

Here and elsewhere, Cela displayed complete command of multi phonics, overblowing, overtones, and other extended techniques, but in each case, they served the music rather than, as is too often the case, the reverse. I’ve heard some fab flutists, but none with his subtle dynamic control and expressive range.

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MusicWatch Weekly: choral confluence

Chanticleer, Cappella Romana and St. Olaf Choir headline the week in Oregon music

Vibrant voices lead this week’s Oregon music calendar, beginning with one of America’s oldest and most revered choral ensembles, St. Olaf Choir’s performance Thursday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church and Saturday afternoon at North Medford High School.

Anton Armstrong leads St. Olaf Choir’s 2018 tour. Photo: Flight Creative Media.

Led for 28 years by Anton Armstrong, familiar to Oregon audiences through his long tenure leading youth choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival, this year’s group sports several members from Oregon and is performing music by Portland born, Salem-based composer/educator (and St. Olaf alum) Stanford Scriven, as well as a J.S. Bach arrangement by Seattle’s John Muelheisen and Sure On This Shining Night by Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen. The program contains mostly compositions by 20th and 21st century  composers including Eric Whitacre, Robert Scholz, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, Moses Hogan, Jean Berger, Carolyn Jennings, Ralph Manuel, David Conte, choir founder F. Melius Christiansen, plus the  Sanctus from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and a selection from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criola.

Choral glory continues with Chanticleer’s performances Friday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall as part of the San Francisco ensemble’s 40th anniversary tour. This year’s program, “Heart of a Soldier,” includes songs from across the ages on the sadly perennial subject of human conflict and its consequences by Renaissance European composers William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Clement Janequin, and Guillaume Dufay through some of the finest contemporary American composers including Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates.

Friends of Chamber Music often brings Chanticleer to Portland.

Another superb vocal ensemble, Portland’s world-renowned Cappella Romana, brings over the great French conductor Marcel Peres (who helped rescue early music from dry, scholarly performances) to lead one of the great Renaissance masterpieces, Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass of Notre Dame Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sunday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church.

Pérès’s Ensemble Organum’s 1996 recording of the masterpiece by the the greatest composer/poet of the 14th century used Corsican singers versed in traditional embellishments that might resemble medieval vocal practices. Their intentionally earthier vocal textures and Peres’s emphasis on lower voices produced as much controversy as early music ever experiences — decried by devotees of later choral music’s restrained, pristine Anglican choirboy sound (which most previous recordings adopted), praised by those (like me) who cherished its folkier, emotionally expressive power. His approach should make an excellent match for Cappella’s singers (particularly its magnificent basses), themselves experienced in medieval Mediterranean vocal traditions.

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