bela fleck

MusicWatch Weekly: Streams & tributaries

Electronica, Celtica, Symphonica, Jazz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last week, when we started talking about “living traditions,” we found that problematizing “world music” opened up the possibility that all genres are a form of tradition–a vast world of traditions within traditions, interacting with each other, ever-evolving, world without end, amen. We’ll be getting into all that in due course. For now, dear reader, we have more homework for you: another week’s worth of concerts, all geared toward your tradition-loving enjoyment and edification.

We’ll start with Japanese composer Takako Minekawa, who doesn’t make “world music.”

Minekawa is performing twice in Portland this week. She works in what we might call the Krautrock tradition: she’s spent the last thirty-odd years crafting vintage synth-laden pop music inspired by the legendary ‘70s Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra and the Robots of Düsseldorf Themselves. Minekawa performs a solo set Thursday (tonight!) at tone poem in Southeast Portland, so grab your bus pass and get moving. The next evening, she’s at the charming Leaven Community Center on Northeast Killingsworth for a quadraphonic concert presented in conjunction with Portland Community College’s Music & Sonic Arts Program.

Let’s circle back to “quadraphonic.” Music audio systems generally come in three varieties: the old-fashioned mono (one speaker channel), reigning champion stereo (left and right), and newishfangled quadraphonic (four channels). It’s one of those things you just have to experience live, and this concert gives you a chance to hear four masters at work on a “multi channel quad performance.” Minekawa joins Francisco Botello, Visible Cloaks, and Carl Stone (a student of Morton Subotnick, which is all you need to know).

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MusicWatch Monthly: Radioactive glowing disk returns to Oregon!

Summer arrives, with festivals, season closers and sun

Caution: Radioactive glowing disk has returned to Oregon’s skies! Remember your sunscreen! Remember your sunscreen! Message repeats.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1911, oil on canvas, 14.9 x 25.5 feet, University of Oslo, Norway. Wikimedia Commons

Five weeks and one day

There’s an old zen saying: you should meditate 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour every day.

Two festivals of contemporary classical music hit Portland this month, and if you’re too busy for one you should make time for the other. Chamber Music Northwest starts June 24 and stretches well into July, with local and international musicians performing everything from tons of Mozart to a bunch of stuff by contemporary composers. Meanwhile on June 27 Makrokosmos, now in its fifth year, crams a similar density of breadth and excellence in a one-day festival of Takemitsu, Crumb, and other modernist composers.

“Makrokosmos Project V: Black Angels”
June 27
Vestas Building

Bicoastal pianists DUO Stephanie & Saar present the best value in Portland’s contemporary music scene: Makrokosmos Project, a one-day mini-festival which has evolved into an annual feat of endurance for Portland new music nuts. This year, local pianists join Ho and Ahuvia to present the complete piano music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, spread across two of the evening’s four segments, along with other piano works by John Luther Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Olivier Messiaen. The mini-fest ends with the Pyxis Quartet’s performance of George Crumb’s gorgeously nightmare-inducing Black Angels: “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” for electric string quartet (you read that right). One ticket gets you a five-hour mini-festival with free cheese and wine. Hard to beat.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival: Week One
June 24 – 30
Kaul Auditorium at Reed College
Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University
Alberta Rose Theater

Clarinetist extraordinaire David Shifrin ends his nearly four-decade run as CMNW Artistic Director with an opening week full of clarinets. No fewer than 27 all-star clarinetists perform two centuries of clarinet music ranging from Mozart—the first great composer to write for the instrument—to new works by Libby Larsen and Michele Mangani.

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Summer music survey part 4: Younger Than Yesterday

Oregon Symphony brings music from today's pop musicians to the concert hall.

Over the past week, we’ve been reviewing summer concerts that sparkled with the promise of renewal. Some of them involved young — even very young! — musicians. But even some of the state’s old-line classical institutions are beginning to seek new audiences. The Oregon Symphony, like other American orchestras, has for the last few years been updating the old idea of the pops concert, once reserved for the Lawrence Welk crowd. Now it’s the baby boomers instead of the 1940s and ‘50s generations whose pop music invades orchestra programs. Often, these have amounted to little but bloated, simplistic inflations of rock band hits for orchestras, but in the last weeks of the summer, the Oregon Symphony presented three different concerts featuring not just the hits but also original music written for orchestra by musicians who made their reputations in non classical settings. (The orchestra also brought back pop singer Brandi Carlile, but that concert announcement didn’t include original works for orchestra.)

Carlos Kalmar congratulates Bela Fleck after performing his music with the Oregon Symphony.

Carlos Kalmar congratulates Bela Fleck after performing his music with the Oregon Symphony.

Unfortunately, I missed OSO’s performance of Phish head Trey Anastasio’s Petrichor (which refers to the scent produced after the first rain in a long time); by all accounts, the audience gave the piece, and the orchestra, fervent shouting ovations. We’ll have more to say about Ben Folds’s surprising early September show soon, but for now, I’ll just note that the feisty third movement of his piano concerto deserves more performances, and not just featuring the composer, who I hope will continue to explore composing for “classical” forces.

At that concert and the preceding week’s Bela Fleck’s guest appearance, the audience seemed to average a full generation younger than usual at the OSO; we’ve asked the symphony to provide us whatever demographic and attendance information it can at the end of the season, but the applause between movements of the banjo virtuoso’s concerto suggested that many were new to the preposterous rituals of classical music. The musicians got into the spirit by shucking the tuxes in favor of what we called “new music black” back in the day — informal black tops and bottoms.

All, that is, except for music director Carlos Kalmar, who strode to the podium resplendent in a blindingly pink shirt that threatened to spontaneously combust, and launched the orchestra into an equally flammable performance of everyone’s favorite (next to maybe Mozart’s Figaro) overture, the stirring kickoff Leonard Bernstein wrote for his operetta Candide, which deserved the raucous woo-hoos and claps it elicited from a crowd (including a dude in a ten gallon hat — first time I’ve seen one of those at an Oregon Symphony concert) that was probably there to hear Bela. The rollicking overture and the rest of the program was brilliantly designed to show any symphony novices the melodic and rhythmic power of some of the best American music, and to place Fleck’s orchestral works in that tradition. The orchestra was smokin’, the house was rockin’, the audience was cheering …

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