beaverton symphony

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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MusicWatch Weekly: out of the past

Oregon conference and concerts explore historical sounds, and there's new music onstage too

We sometimes imagine the past as a frozen portrait, but the early music movement that began accelerating a couple generations ago has revealed that our understanding of how music was performed and perceived in centuries past is ever evolving, thanks to the hard work of scholars around the world, including at the University of Oregon. Next week, the UO hosts a major recurring conference devoted to the continuing rediscovery of ancient music.

But unlike many such academic confabs, this week’s “Musicking: Cultural Considerations” has plenty to offer non academic music lovers, including concerts, theater showcases, masterclasses, lectures, panel discussions, even a Saturday family event where kids and their families can dress in costume and learn baroque dance basics — all free and open to the public. Unlike the recent American Choral Directors Association conference in Portland that, ArtsWatch’s Bruce Browne noted, missed a tremendous opportunity to bring new and old choral music to its host city by not publicizing its splendid concerts, Musicking provides a splendid example of how academia can connect to and enrich its supporting community.

Thursday’s Musicking concert brings world-renowned early music singer and recorder master Peter Van Heyghen from Belgium to perform early 17th century music from the Netherlands and Belgium with the UO’s own super-scholar/performer, baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck at the Oregon Bach Festival’s new Tykeson Concert Hall. Van Heyghen will also lead Saturday’s Beall Hall performance of a world premiere version of Mozart’s magnificent Requiem like you’ve never heard it before — because, well, you haven’t. There’s way too much more to chronicle here, so hie thee to the Musicking website and check out all the free music and knowledge emanating all week.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir play Bach Friday and Saturday.

Evolution of performance styles will also be on display in Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performances of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Much-recorded English conductor David Hill leads a masterpiece of human artistic achievement, which the composer made a kind of compendium of some of his finest choral-orchestral music. It wasn’t performed until a century after his death, and even then and for decades later, those performances buried most of its beauty beneath bloated, Romantic-style choirs and orchestras and anachronistic tunings that obscured Bach’s magnificent music.

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MusicWatch Weekly: in- and outdoor sounds

It's worth venturing outside, smoke and all, to catch some late summer sounds this week, and indoor music is available too

Our weekly music listings, having recently moved back in with the parents over the summer, as so many graduates are doing these days, are pleased to announce that they’ve found their own place again and are busily furnishing it with shiny new previews of a select few music events around the state — many of them alfresco. There is no truth to the rumor that the Music listings were jealous that their Drama siblings just got their own place too….

Tia Fuller performs two shows with her quartet in Portland Friday.

Portland SummerFest

The annual summer music festival temporarily relocates from Washington Park (thanks to construction) to downtown Portland’s so-called “Halprin Sequence,” the lovely if sometimes overlooked public spaces designed by famed architect Lawrence Halprin to restore a few human-scale spaces to a downtown Portland neighborhood ravaged by ‘60s-style car centric urban renewal. As you stroll among Lovejoy and Keller Fountains, Pettygrove Park and the little Source Fountain from 5–9 pm, hear urban soundscapes, music by inventive Cascadia composers Jennifer Wright and Daniel Brugh, local opera singers accompanied by pianist Chuck Dillard, and more.

Wednesday, SW Lincoln and SW Market Streets, Portland.

Hunter Noack performs in three outdoor Oregon settings this week.

“In a Landscape”

Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to Astoria, Pendleton, Eugene, and ten other towns from the coast to the Steens. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances (and probably fire/weather related updates) through September 30.

Wednesday, Agate Beach Golf Course, Newport; Thursday, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, Eugene; Saturday, Suttle Lodge & Boathouse, Sisters.

Al Di Meola shreds on Wednesday in Portland. Photo: Alessio Belloni.

Al Di Meola

The paragon of jazz fusion guitar returns, augmented by a quintet that includes electric violin, on a 40th anniversary tour that features both electric and acoustic axes and tight, tuneful jazz influenced by various global traditions, from Middle Eastern to flamenco.

Wednesday. Revolution Hall, Portland.

Sam Hong plays Oregon music and more this weekend.

Sahun “Sam” Hong

Portland Piano International kicks off its next admirable (and free of charge!) Rising Star series with the young prize winning pianist playing Beethoven and Chopin sonatas, Brahms’s lovely Op. 119 pieces, and a pair of intermezzi by the fine Oregon composer Brent Weaver.

Thursday, George Fox University, Bauman Auditorium, Newberg; Friday, Terwilliger Plaza and Monday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Tia Fuller Quartet (early and late shows)

The rising jazz alto/soprano sax star is probably best known for her work in Beyonce’s band and other pop star gigs (Aretha, Jay Z, et al), but jazz heads and critics have long admired her supple, energetic work with her own quartet over four albums.

Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

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Portland Opera presents Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro this weekend and next. / image via Portland Opera

So much swell singing onstage this weekend in Portland, including Friday night’s Winter’s Journey, which tops this weekend’s list of recommendations; it’s a rare opportunity to see one of music’s absolute classics and in a vital new interpretation. If you’re hesitating at all, listen to our podcast with the perpetrators. The biggest vocal news is Portland Opera’s production of Mozart’s classic The Marriage of Figaro Friday night and Sunday afternoon, and next Thursday and Saturday. It can be played as a romp or revolution, and it’ll be interesting to view the tale of unjustified class privilege during the current Occupation.  I’ll have a mini-review at Willamette Week next week.

In this week’s paper, you can read my review of sound artist Seth Nehil’s haunting Children’s Games. It’s not for audiences who want their messages delivered literally, but definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in adventurous sounds and stagings; this one uses live chorus (by members of Portland’s Flash Choir) as well as video projection.

And speaking of Portland Opera (which just snared an Operagasm! award for … well, you should just check out the site, because the categories definitely smash the stuffy stereotype), Tuesday brings a free recital at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium by one of its young studio artists, Andre Chiang, who sings an intriguing program of music by contemporary American composers Ned Rorem, Lee Hoiby, their predecessors Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein and John Jacob Niles and Samuel Barber, and Robert Schumann’s famous cycle — up there with Schubert’s — The Poet’s Love. PO’s always engaging Robert Ainsley accompanies and comments.

For more Portland vocal excitement, on Saturday night, two more of the city’s most vibrant voices, Mel Downie Robinson and and Tim Galloway, both of whom appeared in last weekend’s Resonance Ensemble show, join forces at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, accompanied by early music specialists Michael Wilhite and Douglas Schneider, singing Baroque music by J.S. Bach, Monteverdi, Handel, Rameau and more. There’s more Bach at Sunday’s Bach Cantata Choir free performance of a cantata (accompanied by small orchestra) by J.S. Bach and music by Renaissance composers at Portland’s Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, and still more free Bach in Eugene on Saturday afternoon at the downtown Atrium, where the Emerald Chamber Orchestra plays a cantata for solo soprano and a pair of chorale preludes. Eugene Baroque fans can also hear Elizabethan  lute duets and songs on Sunday afternoon at United Lutheran Church, featuring lutenists David Rogers and Hideki Yamaya and singers Anna Seitz Rikli and Jim Rich, who’ll sing songs by John Dowland and others, including Shakespeare’s contemporary (and perhaps composer for some of his plays), Robert Johnson.

Orchestra fans have several attractive choices around the state. Saturday and Monday’s Oregon Symphony concerts feature an always worthwhile warhorse, Mozart’s Symphony #41 — the composer’s magnificent final orchestral statement — and a relative rarity, Benjamin Britten’s only Piano Concerto, which offers diverse delights and a solo turn by Scottish pianist Steven Osborn, and Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan.

Last weekend’s OSO concert featured a superb performance by violinist Karen Gomyo in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and if you want more violin virtuosity and Beethoven, they’re onstage Friday and Sunday at the Beaverton Symphony’s concert, which includes Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps’ rhapsodic Violin Concerto, with Portland Baroque Orchestra violinist Adam LaMotte front and center, with Brahms’s Tragic Overture and Beethoven’s picturesquely pastoral Symphony #6.

Over on the coast, the Newport Symphony features yet another big concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Shine-y  third piano concerto, and a really fascinating undercard of Mexican music, including the startlingly original 20th century genius Silvestre Revueltas, Blas Calindo, Arturo Marquez and more.

Of the several excellent shows I caught last weekend, Resonance Ensemble‘s performance may linger longest in my memory. Hugo Distler’s theatrical Dance of Death proved to be strangely moving and seemed to emerge from ancient times, despite the occasional modern musical influences. But what really struck home was the sensitive, intimate performance by this all-star team of singers in mostly somber music by Samuel Barber, Johannes Brahms, Maurice Durufle and more. Resonance’s seemingly effortless dynamic shifts seemed perfectly geared to the lyrics’ phrasing and emotional content, and their ability to maintain a rich, firm tone even at the softest volume was especially impressive. At the end of Distler’s piece, when a worthy character achieves redemption, the sun suddenly brightened the stained glass windows at Portland’s First Presbyterian Church.

Several concerts of new music have already brightened the fall music scene. Third Angle’s agile performance of songs from New York composer Eve Beglarian’s Mississippi Project persuaded me that the composer, who also performed, is one of this country’s most compelling active composers.

Cascadia Composers’ third concert of the still young season offered several local gems. My favorite was Jackie T. Gabel’s Comet Crash 9, an electroacoustic setting of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that reflected that phenomenon as colorfully as Agniezska Laska’s video accompaniment. Bonnie Miksch’s Like Water, Like Sound, Like Breath effectively conveyed the varied moods and emotional turbulence related to the loss of parents and the birth of children in the same period. Gary Noland’s admirably concise Trio for flute, viola and cello swerved from late romantic angst to bucolic tango in a deliciously loopy staggering dance, that ultimately reminded me a bit of Ravel’s  deconstruction of classic waltzes, La Valse. Tomas Svoboda’s Lamentation for string quartet echoed Webern in its spare use of silence and sound. Wind quintets by Ted Clifford and Liz Nedela both showed real promise and engaging moments. In maybe the finest performance of the night, Eugene singer Nancy Wood sang rapturously in Jeff Winslow’s Yeats setting, When You Are Old. It’s nice to hear lyrics delivered clearly without being burdened by archaic or inappropriate opera or art song styles. Thanks to its perky percussion parts, played by Florian Conzetti, Greg Steinke’s sparkling Expressions III, inspired by Klimt paintings, contributed the night’s most exciting moments, and percussion also enlivened David Bernstein’s Quadralogues II.

What really stood out about this concert was the level of performance quality, the highest I’ve heard at CC concerts. When you have performers like Third Angle pianist Susan Smith, Colorado Quartet co-founder Diane Chaplin on cello, former Turtle Island String Quartet violist Danny Seidenberg, Oregon Symphony flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulsen and other excellent musicians giving their superb skills to this homegrown music, it adds immensely to the audience experience. Now, when are other musicians and presenters going to show up and scout some of this  listener-friendly Northwest music for use on local stages?

So Percussion’s performance of music by John Cage, Steve Reich and the band’s own Jason Treuting at Reed College — one of the highlights of the year so far — demonstrated the young quartet’s status as one of the country’s most important musical voices, and presenter  Friends of Chamber Music‘s welcome hipness in taking an expansive of view of chamber music. The New Yorkers brought Oregon some really fresh sounds, including one of Reich’s grooviest latter-day works, 2009’s Mallet Quartet, which sounded even more appealing than it did when I heard So present its premiere in 2009. Debut performances are important, but keeping them in the repertoire really makes new music grow.

FOCM’s outreach efforts also made important connections, as happened with last year’s Calder Quartet appearances at the Portland Art Museum and elsewhere. A Sunday afternoon free performance at Multnomah County’s Central Library kept kids and families engaged and participating in some clapping and other percussion. I wonder if anyone there realized that the music was by composers who were positively vilified by critics and conservative audiences for much of their careers. Hidebound critics routinely ridiculed Cage’s concepts of chance music, his ideas about the value of non traditionally musical sounds, and the rest of his transformational contributions to 20th century arts, while Reich’s early minimalism received boos and derision in the 1960s and early ’70s and even later. The critics lacked imagination, of course, but let’s also acknowledge just how much those two geniuses changed our culture, so much so that Stomp! and Blue Man Group and other percussion-propelled performances now seem perfectly safe,  friendly and fun, even for kids and families. That long view is worth keeping in mind when we encounter new art that seems strange today.