britt festival

Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Virtual Classical

Deprived of live shows, Oregon musicians take their talents to the interwebs

Oregon musical performances may be suspended, but Oregon music plays on. Oregon classical musicians aren’t letting a little thing like a deadly pandemic and total cancellation of live performances stop them from bringing the sounds. Tonight, Friday May 8, at 10 pm, for example, the latest worthy project from 45th Parallel Universe, Portland Social Distance Ensemble, debuts with a performance of that seminal (or, as one of my fellow feminist friends used to say, “ovular”) work of contemporary classical music, Terry Riley’s In C. Tune in at their Facebook livestream or YouTube livestream.

45th Parallel musicians perform live on the internet Friday

The eight musicians will be playing live, in real time, from six different houses, all in sync through the magic of what must be a really fast internet connection to overcome the latency problem that plagues so many attempts at simultaneous playing from scattered locations. “We’ve built a live digital platform that allows us to collaborate remotely online,” enthuses 45th Parallel’s Ron Blessinger. “No one else is doing anything even close to this. This is as close to a live performance as anyone is able to do with players playing in their own homes. Next, we’ll try it with players in Poland and Holland too.”

Riley’s proto-minimalist masterpiece is a canny choice for this test run, as it allows the individual musicians a degree of latitude that makes absolute precision not quite as important to the musical outcome. 45th Parallel plans to repeat it, with a different program each Friday from 6-6:30 pm, at the same websites above. Next week’s program by the organization’s Pyxis string quartet includes music by two of America’s greatest living composers, Philip Glass and George Crumb, and more.

PSDE is a commendably bold and fascinating experiment, so do have a little patience with this debut performance, and join us in admiration for their willingness to take a risk. Tough times demand bold responses. 

Like so many other Oregon classical performers, 45th Parallel had to cancel its spring shows, so it’s nice to see them bouncing back undaunted. They’re not the only musicians livestreaming events this month.

• Legendary Portland club team DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid celebrate the seven-year anniversary of their Tropitaal Desi Latino Soundclash party over livestream  next Saturday, May 16.

• On May 22, Portland State University’s Sonic Arts and Music Production’s Laptop Ensemble will livestream several new quarantine-appropriate pieces, including Social Distance, a live music performance with 20 networked laptops, and Inside Voices, a pre-recorded piece written in series by the ensemble. This one, sponsored by the vital Portland club Holocene, requires a ticket purchase.

• Portland’s Creative Music Guild has moved its fascinating Outset Series online, starting a series of live streamed shows this month via its YouTube channel. Next up: Jamondria Harris this Tuesday, May 12. It’s an excellent way to get familiar with a vital but hard-to-describe segment of Portland’s less conventional music scene.

We’ll do our best to keep you apprised of others — please let us know about other Oregon livestream music at music@orartswatch.org. Meanwhile, here are some other — what shall we call online presentations of chats and archived performances, as opposed to the livestream concerts listed above? “Deadstreams” sounds a little harsh….

• On May 8, 9 and 10, Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Center’s Creative Quarantine Studio program present a Siletz Bay Music Mini Festival smorgasbord featuring jazz, classical, chamber and family offerings with some of the festival’s favorite artists,  including jazz clarinet master Ken Peplowski, pianist Rosanno Sportiello, artistic director Yaacov Bergman, cellist Nancy Ives, pianist Mei Ting Sun, violist Miriam Ward English and her family, and more.

• Also this weekend, KWAX (FM 91.1) re-broadcasts the Eugene Symphony’s January 23 concert featuring music by Missy Mazzoli, Brahms and Sibelius. You can also see a video of the Eugene Symphony’s photo-enhanced Four Seasons of the McKenzie River concert from February on YouTube. 

• ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong has been offering weekly online Watch Parties in which he talks about classical music masterpieces and instruments. You can catch up on past episodes on his YouTube channel, and the series resumes at month’s end, when he returns with new episodes from his childhood home in Boulder, where he and his fiancé are sheltering.

• On May 11, Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar is starting his own series of weekly chats, Mondays with the Maestro, accessible on Artslandia website or Facebook.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Director Raúl Gomez hosts a daily YouTube show “MYS Virtual Hangouts” from Tuesday-Friday at 4pm on the MYS YouTube Channel. He and guests (so far including Oregon Symphony Artist-in-Residence Johannes Moser and principal cellist Nancy Ives, composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Kenji Bunch, and more) chat about life stories, musical advice and even include world premiere collaborations with local artists.

• For audio-only streams, check Portland’s essential classical music resource, All Classical FM, whose Andrea Murray devoted the current episode of her valuable Club Mod program — streaming for the next two weeks — to Portland composers), while Christa Wessel’s excellent Thursdays @ 3 program is bringing live performances from Oregon musicians’ home studios. Cellist Diane Chaplin, singer Arwen Myers and Oregon Symphony flutist Martha Long’s performances are currently available, as are recordings of earlier live performances on the station’s Played in Oregon program by Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music Northwest. 

• The Creative Music Guild‘s Extradition Series has started a Social Distancing Project, with videos of performances recorded during the current period of isolation by some of Portland’s most accomplished improvising musicians.

• You can also find pre-pandemic performances of Oregon music streaming at Cascadia Composers YouTube channel. Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana offer online recordings of their recent concerts on YouTube, the University of Oregon is releasing archived concerts from Beall Concert Hall, and many other Oregon music institutions are streaming videos of earlier performances or even home-grown (more literally than ever) current music making, like Artslandia’s happy hours

This is far from a comprehensive list. Check your own favorite organization or band’s website often to see what online offerings, from playlists to archived concerts and more, might appear in this fast-changing environment. Since most is free to stream, think of this troubled moment as an opportunity to virtually test-drive Oregon music makers you’ve missed or never gotten a chance to hear live. That way, when the live music resumes, you might have a lot more items to add to your musical agenda. And feel free to share more streaming links to Oregon music in the comments section below. 

News & Notes

Meanwhile, the cascade of classical cancellations continues. The latest series to fall victim to the virus: Chamber Music Northwest, which yesterday announced cancellation of its upcoming spring concerts and all Summer Festival concerts and events — a bitter pill for what would have been the 50th anniversary season of one of Oregon’s most valuable classical music events.

But CMNW won’t leave listeners entirely bereft. Beginning May 21 and running through June 21, All Classical Portland 89.9 FM will air a new five-part series of music and interviews from recent Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festivals on Thursdays at 7 pm, repeated on Sundays at 4 pm. The series will feature the Verona Quartet, Imani Winds, Opus 1 Piano Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and more.

Chamber Music Northwest also hosts a free Virtual Summer Festival June 22 – July 26 featuring highlights from recent seasons and special live concerts, including performances by CMNW regulars including the Emerson, Miró, and Dover Quartets, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Andre Watts, Edgar Meyer, Peter Schickele, and David Shifrin, who this summer would have celebrated 40th and final festival as artistic director. The organization earlier decided to send this summer’s scheduled musicians 50 percent of their pay for the festival immediately, to help out with pressing needs since so many have lost so many gigs, and specified that the money was theirs to keep “regardless of what happens this summer.”

• Along with CMNW and the Oregon Bach Festival, Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival canceled this August’s edition, which would have been the tenth and final season for artistic director and conductor George Hanson.

• And Jacksonville’s Britt Festival canceled its August classical music season, vowing to return in 2021 with the same lineup, including the festival orchestra’s premiere of acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw’s new experiential, site-specific Hiking the Woodlands inspired by the Jacksonville Woodland Trails. Even though this summer’s live attractions are fading fast, at least we have plenty to look forward to next year.

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MusicWatch Monthly: Second Summer

Out-of-town festivals, funk at the zoo, opera ‘bout Guthrie, we’re all Kulululu

Oregon, as everyone knows, has two summers every year. The first lasts from the first hot weekend in May until the end of Chamber Music Northwest. The second summer—the one you’re in right now—occupies all of August and lasts until Oregon Symphony gets rolling for real at the end of September (their annual Zoo show on the 7th doesn’t count).

If you want to hear live classical music during Second Oregon Summer, you’ll have to head down to Jacksonville for the Britt Music & Arts Festival, happening right now through the 11th, or else head out to wine country for the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, happening right now through the 18th. You can read Alice Hardesty’s previw of Britt right here, and Angela Allen’s preview of the WVCMF right here.

Other than that, you’re out of luck. There’s no music happening in Portland during Second Summer, so you might as well stay home, stay hydrated, catch up on your reading, and dig into that 10-disc Lutosławski boxed set.

Polish composer Witold Lutosławski.

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Musical Fire in the Rogue Valley

Southern Oregon music festival features three weeks of classical music new and old

by ALICE HARDESTY

The Rogue Valley is home to the Britt Music and Arts Festival, which takes place in July and August every summer. The Britt Festival Orchestra’s music director, Teddy Abrams, is hugely popular among music lovers here and in his home city of Louisville, where he directs the Louisville Orchestra. That affection is reciprocated, he assures us. “I immediately fell in love with Jacksonville, with the region, and with the orchestra from the first time I came here to conduct. That was seven years ago, the year before I started my first season as music director. I’ve been associated now with this festival for a good solid percentage of my life if you think about it.” Fortunately for Southern Oregon, Abrams has renewed his contract for four more years.

Young Teddy

While some of us might say that seven years is only an eye-blink, when you’re just 32 that’s a good percentage of your life. Abrams started his musical career early. He was improvising on the piano at age three, beginning lessons at five, and got interested in conducting after attending a San Francisco Symphony concert at age nine. He began studying conducting and musicianship with Michael Tilson Thomas at the age of twelve. At sixteen he started a bachelor of arts program at the San Francisco Conservatory for Music and went on to the Curtis Institute of Music and later to the Aspen Music Festival and School. At both of the latter institutions he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted, and he is currently the youngest conductor of a major orchestra in the U.S. By now he has conducted orchestras around the world, and he also performs frequently as a pianist and clarinetist. And, in his spare time, he composes!

Mission and challenges

I’m sure Teddy Abrams has been labeled “wunderkind” sometime along the way. But unlike many prodigies, his flame continues to burn brightly, and his creative energies are unstoppable, proof of which lies in the successful rejuvenation of the Louisville Orchestra and in the number and quality of the programs he has created for the Britt Festival Orchestra.

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Sounds beyond Shakespeare

Southern Oregon offers surprisingly rich range of classical music attractions

by ALICE HARDESTY

It may come as a surprise to Portlandia that there’s something in Ashland besides Shakespeare. During my years in Portland, whenever I would say that I intended a visit to Ashland, my friends would always ask, “What plays are you going to see?” My usual response was, “I’m not going to the theater, I’m going to a concert.”

Having lived in Ashland for 16 years before moving to Portland, I’d seen plenty of plays, but my heart was firmly located in the musical scene. In fact, the little cities of Southern Oregon boast musical performances that could be considered big-city league. And there’s something good to hear and see all year, so one has alternatives to the “smoke season.”And now that I’ve moved back to my Ashland roots, I’m deeply embedded again.

Caballito Negro

The Oregon Center for the Arts (OCA), connected to Southern Oregon University, is an umbrella organization for several music presenters and arts organizations in the Rogue Valley, including the Tutunov Piano Series, the JPR One World Series, the Schneider Museum of Art, and the newly developed ShakespeareAmerica program. Other musical groups include Chamber Music Concerts, Caballito Negro (read the ArtsWatch profile by Matthew Andrews), and Left Edge Percussion, the latter two having performed in Portland. Here are some particulars about them.

Rogue Valley Symphony

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of maestro Martin Majkut‘s tenure as Music Director of the the Rogue Valley Symphony. The orchestra is composed of 70 professional musicians, most of whom live in Southern Oregon, but several commute from further locales. They present a series of six “masterworks” concerts each year plus holiday and family concerts, in Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass venues. Dr. Majkut’s arrival gave an electric boost to an otherwise sleepy provincial orchestra, which now attracts major soloists, such as Peter Serkin and Jeffrey Biegel. The orchestra commissioned five new pieces for its 50th anniversary last year, including How Can You Own the Sky? a symphonic poem by Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse honoring the Native Americans of Southern Oregon. (See the ArtsWatch article by Gary Ferrington). Maestro Majkut has dubbed the 2019-2020 year “The Season of Women” with all female soloists. Further information and tickets: www.rvsymphony.org or 541-708-6400.

Rogue Valley Symphony. Photo: Christopher Briscoe.

Chamber Music Concerts

Full disclosure – Before moving to Portland I had served on the CMC board for many years, and since returning to Ashland this past summer I’m on the board again. Back in 1993, newly arrived in Ashland and having been spoiled by marvelous music in the Washington D.C. area, chamber music is where I found the world-class performances I longed for. Founded in 1984, CMC brings groups from all over the world to perform in SOU’s acoustically excellent recital hall. Artists have included Angela Hewitt, Jon Nakamatsu, Julianne Baird, the late Sanford Sylvan, and the Emerson, Pacifica, and Takacs Quartets, to name just a few. The twelve-concert season includes eight evening concerts and four matinees, all with different programs.

Minguet Quartet performs in Ashland April 26. Photo: Frank Rossbach.

Next year’s stellar line-up includes the celebrated vocal ensemble Tenebrae, as well as the Elias String Quartet, the Faure Piano Quartet, and Brooklyn Rider as CMC’s Exploration Concert. Information and tickets: www.chambermusicconcerts.org or 541-552-6154.

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MusicWatch Weekly: August catch-up

A new month brings more music festivals to Oregon

Keeping up with even the segment of Oregon’s increasingly busy music scene ArtsWatch can afford to cover (and we’d love to do more, if our readers and Oregon music institutions will help us pay for it) is nearly impossible when the season’s in full swing. It’s all we can do to tell you what’s about to happen, so you don’t miss the stuff you want to hear. That’s why we prioritize previews and reviews of continuing productions, like multi-performance operas. Readers have complained about us piling too many music stories at once, so we try to keep it to a maximum of one per day, which is about all we can handle with our current resources anyway.

That often means that reviews of non-recurring shows get pushed to the end of the line, or rather the end of the season. Which is where we find ourselves this month. With a few notable exceptions, most classical and jazz music institutions pretty much shut it down beginning in June, when western Oregonians at last joyously receive parole from our rain-huddled winter and spring imprisonment and head outside. Most of the rest, like the Astoria and Oregon Coast and Oregon Bach Festivals and Chamber Music Northwest, also call it a season when the smoke begins to descend. Which gives our writers (many of whom are working musicians and/or have day jobs) a chance to catch our breaths (figuratively at least) and finally catch up on those reviews they hadn’t time and/or we hadn’t room to deliver earlier.

That’s why you’ve been seeing reviews of events stretching back to early 2018 lately, and will be seeing more in coming weeks as our writers, once again stuck inside avoiding wildfire smoke, continue working through their backlogs. We hope you enjoy the memories until the new shows commence.

English conductor Jeremy Summerly (center) led a vocal ensemble at the 2017 William Byrd Festival.

Which actually is, er, now! Yes, while a couple of major festivals close this weekend, no fewer than four more music festivals begin this week, including the annual William Byrd Festival, which runs August 10-26 at several Portland venues. Now embarking on its third decade of bringing Renaissance choral music to Portland, the annual festival includes public lectures, open-to-the-public choral performances at church services, an organ recital, and a pair of public concerts. Friday’s opening concert at Portland’s Old Church, directed by renowned English choral conductor Jeremy Summerly, features masterpieces from 1610-11 — the transitional period between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Friday also marks the opening of the annual Sunriver Music Festival, with a concert celebrating the centenary of one of America’s mightiest men of music, Leonard Bernstein. Along with his ballet score Fancy Free and joyously jazzy Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, the concert includes Rhapsody in Blue by one of Bernstein’s great inspirations, George Gershwin, and a brief, brash, bustling 1992 work by the American composer whose new Passion was premiered last month at the Oregon Bach Festival.

Composer Richard Danielpour works with the Oregon Bach Festival chorus in preparation for the premiere of his ‘Yeshua Passion.’

“While Toward the Splendid City was composed as a portrait of New York, the city in which I live,” Richard Danielpour has written, he actually began it during his year-long residency with the  Seattle Symphony, a Northwest sojourn which not surprisingly gave him “serious second thoughts about returning to New York. Life was always complicated in the city and easier, it seemed, everywhere else. I was, however, not without a certain pang of nostalgia for my hometown, and as a result Toward the Splendid City was driven by my love-hate relationship with New York. The work’s title comes from the heading of Pablo Neruda’s 1974 Nobel Prize address.” He wound up going back anyway.

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MusicWatch Weekly: American classics

American songbook standards, piano classics, opera, and more in this week's Oregon music recommendations

Every summer, The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music approaches its two-week series of concerts, films, talks and more from different angles, but the Eugene festival’s perennial subject — American pop music from the 1920s to just before the rise of rock — somehow remains inexhaustible. Wednesday’s opening sampler ingeniously takes the form of an innovation that emerged toward the end of songbook era and helped extend it: the TV variety show. Siri Vik leads a sextet of singers and Torrey Newhart directs a sextet of jazz musicians in songs by Loesser, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Edith Piaf standards, even an opera aria.

The festival’s production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls closed last weekend, but you can hear a different new production at Broadway Rose Theatre starting this weekend. And there’s more Loesser (sorry) Thursday afternoon in a concert featuring four vocalists and a dectet playing some of his greatest hits, including “Let’s Get Lost,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Believe in You,” the recently controversial “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and more, including some Guys and Dolls standards.

That night, vibes master Chuck Redd joinsVik and an ace jazz quintet to play American Songbook standards and others refracted through a jazz prism by midcentury stars like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, and Lionel Hampton. Vik returns with a quintet (including cello and violin) Friday afternoon for the major departure from the American-centric program: mid-centurystandards made famous by French chanteuse Édith Piaf.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling leads a standards-fueled jazz party and more at the Shedd.

Friday night’s jazz concert is based on a book — a famous 1970s collection of jazz arrangements of standards from musicals by Rodgers & Hart, Porter, Jerome Kern and more that inspired the career of longtime Shedd pianist Vicki Brabham. That afternoon’s talk by fellow Shedd vet Ian Whitcomb also contains a recital of his top ten 20th century songs — most from the 1910s and ‘20s, few that make most other lists of standards.

Saturday night’s jazz quartet concert features classics by George Gershwin, including pianist Ted Rosenthal’s solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and jazz versions of Gershwin tunes. Saturday afternoon boasts a community singalong, and Sunday afternoon a cabaret-style jazz party/jam led by Redd that samples songbook standards from the rest of the fest and more.

The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program put together by trumpet master Byron Stripling and performed by singers Vik and Julliette Holliday with octet. Remember that the festival also offers a host of free talks, films of the era, and more.

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice closes Saturday at Newmark Theatre, ending the company’s summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.

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