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MusicWatch Weekly: generation next

Music by and for young Oregonians highlights this week's concerts

It’s probably too late for the next generations to save our planet from the greed and selfishness of their elders, but at least they’ll have music to console them. Young musicians, like young Americans in general, do give me what little hope remains for our future. This month offers numerous opportunities to hear music by and for young Oregonians.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays new and old music this weekend.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony teams up with Fear No Music’s valuable Young Composers Project in the inaugural performance of its new series of student commissions called “The Authentic Voice,” presented and performed by MYS. Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall features Tone Poem No. 1: Orpheus and Eurydice, a brand new piece composed and conducted by high school senior Jake Safirstein, one of three composers who this year receive supportive training in a series of private lessons and small group workshops led by Fear No Music’s master musicians in addition to orchestral readings with MYS’s Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes Italian-themed music by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, plus music that’s delighted kids for decades when it appeared in Fantasia: Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Saturday concert in the same venue offers a rare opportunity to hear music by the dean of African American classical composers, William Grant Still, whose still-appealing music, often drawing on folk traditions, was underplayed in his lifetime because of racism, orchestras’ snobbish disdain for American composers, and mid-century trend-setters’ fear of music that could be enjoyed by broad audiences. That included Still’s 1957 American Scene: Five Suites for Young Americans, one of those worthy but neglected works by African American composers that Damien Geter wrote about in his ArtsWatch story last month. Along with its The Far West section, PYP will play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist 17-year-old violinist Aaron Greene, winner of PYP’s 2018-19 Soloist Competition, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. Next month, we’ll tell you about FNM’s own concert pertaining to children and our future.

Violinist Aaron Greene performs with Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo: Brian Clark

• We’re getting an early jump on next Wednesday’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras Breaking the Cage, a multi-media event at Portland’s Old Church featuring collective compositions by the young BRAVO musicians (some with personal connections to immigration) responding to the cruel detentions and family separations perpetrated by the government at America’s southwestern border. Along with ashort documentary film about the project, the show also features engaging Portland looping violinist and songwriter Joe Kye.

• Audiences should also look a lot younger than usual at the Oregon Symphony’s Tchaikovsky vs. Drake concert at Schnitzer Thursday night. Guest conductor Steve Hackman, perpetrator of last season’s similarly conceived “Brahms vs. Radiohead” program, this time brings three singers and a rapper to mashup a dozen hits by Drake (whose Scorpion is the year’s biggest album so far) with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with help from Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir.

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Cascadia Composers at ten

Saturday's tenth anniversary season-opening concert celebrates a decade of showcasing and stimulating community creativity

After Dan Brugh came back from music school, whenever he’d be back on Mount Tabor, near where he grew up, “I always wanted to play music there and bring in other composers,” the Portland composer remembers. But back then, there was no organized way for composers to make events like that happen, and showcases of original music by Northwest contemporary classical composers were rare. Then, a decade ago, a new organization arrived. And thanks to Cascadia Composers, Brugh is making that old wish a reality.

Brugh and Jennifer Wright are the main curators for this Saturday’s Caldera, the first of ten concerts in the regional composers’ organization’s 10th anniversary season — the most programs they’ve ever produced in a single year. In that decade, says founder David Bernstein, Cascadia has grown by a factor of ten — from the original eight members to 80 today — into the largest of the ten chapters in the National Association of Composers USA.

Cascadia Composers (l-r) Ted Clifford, Paul Safar, David Bernstein, Jennifer Wright, Dan Brugh in Havana. Photo: Nadia Reyes.

Over the last decade, “we have given 66 different concerts with over 500 works,” primarily by Northwest composers, Bernstein says. “None of the other chapters can compare with what we’ve done.”

Saturday’s season opening concert is an overture to the group’s most ambitious season ever, and a culmination of a steady rise in quality and scope. 

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Cascadia Composers & Delgani Quartet: performance matters

Fall concerts show the value of prepared, skilled musicians to new music showcases

When it comes to covering music, ArtsWatch tends to focus on composition more than performance. That’s not only because two of our regular music writers are themselves composers, but also because we want to tell Oregonians the story of Oregon creativity, which is really part of the larger story of what makes us what we are here in the 21st century. It’s a main reason I created our Oregon ComposersWatch resource, to make it easier for ArtsWatch readers to hear the fruits of our homegrown musical creators. And thanks to Cascadia Composers and others, Oregon contemporary classical music is an increasingly rich bounty.

But just as there’s more to a play than a script, more to a dance than choreography, there’s more to music than a score. A couple of fall Cascadia concerts showed — in both positive and negative ways — just how important performers are to the story of Oregon originality.

Dazzling Delgani

While the preponderance of Cascadia music is created by composers living in the Portland metro area, the group’s October concerts at Eugene’s First Christian Church and southeast Portland’s Community Music Center happened to feature music written by non Portlanders and even non Oregonians. And so it was appropriate that the performers, too, hailed from beyond Portland. Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet turned in one of the finest performances I’ve ever experienced at a Cascadia concert.

Delgani String Quartet played music by Cascadia Composers in Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Some of the best Cascadia shows have relied on veteran ensembles (Portland Percussion Group, The Mousai, Choral Arts Ensemble) rather than pickup groups. That’s no surprise: you’d expect musicians that have been performing together for years to do a better job than those who might never have played together before, and who might have rehearsed together only a couple of times. The tradeoff for audiences, though: a program that features the same forces on every piece necessarily offers less instrumental variety. This one happily provided considerable stylistic variety to compensate.

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