bravo youth orchestra

Passages: The ones we lost in 2020

Looking back: Remembering Oregon writers, dancers, musicians, theater artists, and others who died in the past 12 months

The year 2020 included, among its many disruptions, the deaths of several notable arts and cultural figures in Oregon. Here are 15 who we remember in particular for the art they made and the lives they led. Some, like the National Book Award-winning writer Barry Lopez, whose Arctic Dreams is a genuine classic, have international reputations. Some, like contemporary choreographer and dancer Mary Oslund, had outsized and lasting impacts that focused on Oregon but also reached beyond. All deserve our notice and gratitude for helping to shape our notion of culture in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon’s passages join a long list of national and international cultural figures who died in 2020. Among them are the likes of playwrights Larry Kramer and Terrence McNally; the stage designer Ming Cho Lee; visual artists Christo, Milton Glaser, and Peter Beard; musicians John Prine, Little Richard, Bill Withers, Charlie Pride, Leon Fleisher, and Krysztof Penderecki; novelist John le Carré; dancer/actor Ann Reinking; and actors Chadwick Boseman (brilliant in his final role as the trumpeter Levee in the Netflix film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Olivia de Havilland, Zoe Caldwell, Kirk Douglas, and Diana Rigg.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


A note on Rigg: Many people remember her primarily as the sizzling secret agent Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers; others for her sterling stage career. I revere her also as the author of the collection No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews, an often achingly funny compilation of terrible and frequently wrong-headed notices gathered from historical records and sent her by her friends and fellow performers. It was prompted in part by a 1970 review by the legendarily caustic John Simon of her appearance in the play Abelard and Heloise: “Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient buttresses.” Sometimes turnabout is fair play: She showed that she could play the game just as well or better, and her book landed on Simon and his soulmates like a ton of tongue-in-cheek bricks.

The people we lost in Oregon, and will remember:

Sara Waddell and BRAVO’s Seth Truby, passing the torch. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Sara Waddell, teacher and music lover. Sara “Penny” Waddell of Beaverton was a teacher and mother and aspiring cellist who learned, in her early 50s, that she had a fatal cancer. She and frequent ArtsWatch photographer Joe Cantrell had become friends, and when she told him she wanted to pass along her cello and violin to students who could use them, he helped her connect with BRAVO Youth Orchestras, many of whose members can’t afford their own instruments. On Jan. 21 we told her story, with Cantrell’s photographs, in A cello, a violin, a final grace note. On Feb. 23 Waddell died, at age 52 – but her memory, and her musical instruments, play on.

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Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’

Vocal ensemble's collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance

It’s a testimony to Portland choral group Resonance Ensemble’s sense of community that they collaborate with and share their concerts with other artists—sometimes several. At Resonance’s October 21 Hidden Voices concert, the choir shared the spotlight with journalist-turned-poet S. Renee Mitchell, BRAVO Youth Orchestra, and local gospel choir Kingdom Sound. Together, they performed music by a pair of composers both born in 1980: Australian Melissa Dunphy and Resonance’s own Damien Geter.

“Remain Hopeful”

Reverend Terry McCray-Hill welcomed the packed, restless audience to Northeast Portland’s Bethel A.M.E. Church, where the mix of Resonance enthusiasts and regular Bethel churchgoers made for a gathering more diverse—racially and religiously as well as across age and class boundaries—than most Portland concerts, an integrated solidarity which has become especially important in these fractured times. “I dream a world,” McCray-Hill said, “where hidden voices can find a comfortable place to scream out who they are.”

Kingdom Sound gospel choir performed at Resonance Ensemble’s ‘Hidden Voices.’ Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

Resonance Ensemble’s founder and Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon described the group’s commitment “to presenting powerful performances of music that will, hopefully, make change happen in the world.” This season—their tenth—continues Resonance’s tradition of socially conscious music making, each concert spotlighting timely issues: upcoming concerts focus on women’s voices and the health challenges of childhood and parenthood, and Hidden Voices focused on experiences marked by racism and resistance.

“Today we celebrate artists of color, composers of color,” FitzGibbon continued. “We have some music today that is really challenging; I think music should challenge us,” she said, warning the audience of the presence of violence in the music, and closing with a promise of hope. “What a gesture it is to remain hopeful.”

She’s right: collaboration, consistency, and commitment are all acts of resistance against complacency, a way of meeting challenges and overcoming them.

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MusicWatch Weekly: freedom songs

Socially conscious sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

In focusing on the music of the past, classical music programming has too often ignored the concerns of the present. But over the past couple years, some Portland classical music organizations have focused on issues of social and especially racial justice — none more conscientiously than the all star choir Resonance Ensemble, which devoted last season to music and poetry related to some of today’s most pressing social concerns.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s Hidden Voices concert continues that commendable emphasis by taking the music out of the usual concert halls and bringing it to Bethel A.M.E. Church, 5828 NE 8th Ave., Portland’s oldest continuously operating black church, and also Oregon’s only African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Composer Damien Geter sings with Resonance Ensemble. Photo: Kenton Waltz.

With help from BRAVO Youth Orchestra (Portland’s version of Venezuela’s groundbreaking El Sistema program that brings classical music training to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it) and Derrick McDuffey and the gospel ensemble Kingdom Sound, they’ll perform the world premiere of a movement from Resonance singer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s Requiem, which sets texts by African-American men killed by police, and the West Coast premiere of American Dreamers, a piece by young Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy (whose Gonzales Cantata was performed last week by Portland’s Big Mouth) that sets texts by five Americans who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. Resonance Poet in Residence S. Renee Mitchell contributes another original work.

• The 20-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs “Songs of the Free” Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, often mixes traditional and popular music from around Africa with exuberant American gospel styles and even pop music arrangements by African diasporites like Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding and Bob Marley. Winner of top gospel music awards and Grammys, the choir has scored a world music chart-topping album, worked with members of Queen and Bono, and performed for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Composed of some of the finest singers around Soweto and Johannesburg, its concerts present a striking visual as well as auditory experience, replete with multi colored traditional costumes, high kicking synchronized dance moves, and accompanying percussion such as the djembe drum. Even when they sing Xhosa and a half dozen other languages, the ensemble supplies English explanations of the stories behind the songs.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

• Another Portland music institution whose programming has recently responded to today’s social concerts, FearNoMusic, joins Portland Taiko in music that responds to the American government’s brutal imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Sunday night’s Sticks + Strings concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., the new music group accompanies the Japanese percussion ensemble’s drummers in the premiere of Dango Jiru for taiko, flute, violin, and cello, a new work by FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch, Portland’s hottest contemporary composer, who’ll also play his haunting solo viola, Minidoka, inspired by his visit to one of those concentration camps. Portland Taiko will also perform one of their own pieces on that subject and other works.

Kenji Bunch plays his own music with Portland Taiko.

Orchestral Highlights

• Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at Portland’s First Baptist Church and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium not only present some of the standards of baroque music — Vivaldi’s Op. 3 violin concertos — but also some of the Red Priest’s equally ebullient music for singer (this time, Czech soprano Hana Blažíková) and orchestra: In furore iustissimae irae, RV626 and Nulla in mundo pax, RV 630.

• Another historically informed band, Emerald Chamber Orchestra, with singers Phoebe Gildea and Trevor Cook perform J.S. Bach’s fun Peasant Cantata (featuring a farmer and a tax collector) and his famous Orchestral Suite #2 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church Auditorium at 14th and Pearl Streets.

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