broken consort

Safe Distance Sounds 3: Oregon voices

Recent recordings by Cappella Romana, the Broken Consort, Portland State University Chamber Choir and The Industry showcase Oregon choral and vocal music

Of all the music we’re missing in these days of suspended live performances, perhaps the most missed — and most lethal — is choral music. One of the first major outbreaks of Covid 19, after all, derived from a Northwest choir rehearsal, and every choral performance involves slinging a lot of breath and its hangers-on droplets around a stage.

And yet, choral music is to many of us the most life-giving music. Not just because it directly involves the breath — the same breath the virus threatens — but also because it combines musical and verbal communication. Even when we don’t even understand the language being sung, many of us crave the sound of the live human voice, especially when many of us are denied it during the lockdown when, sadly, we’re denied it. And it may be some time before we can hear it again live. Although, lots of folks are trying new things.

So, to continue our series of reviews of recent recordings of Oregon music (earlier installments covered jazz/improvised and chamber music), here are some choral, vocal and opera recordings that might help assuage the loss of live performances. For more Oregon voices on record, check ArtsWatch’s recent archives for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch reviews of recent albums by Oregon Repertory Singers and In Mulieribus.

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Open Wide

Big Mouth Society embraces inclusivity, high artistic standards, and socially engaged art

A shipwreck brought musician Emily Lau to Portland. It didn’t happen in Oregon but off the Italian coast, where in 2012 the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground, capsized and killed 32 people. Lau was on her honeymoon, and though she and her husband weren’t injured, the Mediterranean disaster changed her life. A virtuoso musician and composer, the perfectionist Hong Kong native was then stressing out trying to make it in Boston’s highly competitive early music scene.

Big Mouth’s Emily Lan.

“I’m a classical musician, and my whole life I’ve been trying to… perfect something,” she told CBS News at the time. “And fear comes with being a perfectionist. And I think the emotional take for me, after being almost dead, was that I don’t have to be so scared any more.”

Seeing dead bodies and wondering for hours whether they’d survive clarified Lau’s priorities. 

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MusicWatch Weekly: wonder women

Music by women, young musicians, Mexican and immigrant composers highlight the week’s Oregon concerts

Our regnant political culture seems to be waging war on everyone who doesn’t belong to the long-dominant ruling class. Let’s hope it’s the last gasps. This week’s Oregon music offers life-affirming musical retaliation from those (sometimes literal) targets: young people, women, immigrants, Mexicans, and more.

Women’s voices and music were long silenced by overt or de facto oppression, but a couple of Portland concerts this weekend shows just how much female composers had — and have — to offer.

Wright, Marsh, and Philipps wrote the music for Burn After Listening’s Saturday concert.

On Saturday at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland composers collective Burn After Listening New Music returns for its second presentation: (Dis)connect: New Music for Challenging Times, with original compositions by three top Portland female composers. Some stars of Oregon classical music — Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet and singer Laura Beckel Thoreson — join  violist Christina Ebersohl (whom we’ll have more about next month), dancer Christina Wolken, writer Katie Boehnlein in multimedia creations by Lisa Ann Marsh, Stacey Philipps, and Jennifer Wright. You can also experience Disjecta’s current exhibition by yet another female Oregon artist, Portia Munson’s large-scale installation, Flood. And yes, Wright’s Skeleton Piano will rattle its bones.

Christina Ebersohl performs at Burn After Listening’s show.

Also on Saturday night (alas) at Northwest Dance Project and also Sunday afternoon (yay!) at The Hallowed Halls, another newish Portland ensemble, the Broken Consort, presents its second performance. Sirens, Interrupted features not only contemporary music by founder/composer/singer/social advocate/Big Mouth Emily Lau (the cantata excerpt In Praise of Menstruation), but also the premiere of Maggie Finnegan’s Assemble with Care, an autobiographical cantata of the experience of a rape victim, plus Oregon premieres of music by a pair of renowned 20th century women, Meredith Monk and Pauline Oliveros, one of today’s rising female composers, Kate Soper.

The Broken Consort performs music by women on Saturday and Sunday.

The concert also connects today’s female composers with a long tradition of women’s classical music, from the virtuosic vocal music by independent 13th century Spanish nuns in the Las Huelgas Codex to the pioneering works by 17th century Italy’s all-female musicians’ collective Concerto Delle Donne and more. Lau, a board member of Early Music America, was a force in Boston’s flourishing early music scene before relocating to Portland, and performers include early music and contemporary music specialists from around the nation.

Speaking of early-contemporary music combos, Seattle’s Tudor Choir commissioned another contemporary composer much influenced by folk music, much-acclaimed Philip Glass protege Nico Muhly, to create a new piece, Small Raine, which they’ll sing in concerts presented by Cappella Romana Saturday night at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch and Sunday afternoon at Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church, 475 SE 3rd Ave. The centuries-spanning program also includes English Renaissance composer John Taverner’s 16th-century Western Wind Mass, and more.

Another recommended choral concert: Portland State University’s award-winning choirs’ centennial tribute to Leonard Bernstein Friday and Sunday at First United Methodist Church. Along with his masterful Chichester Psalms, the show also  features music by living composers who were heavily influenced by Bernstein, including the Northwest premieres of new works by British composer Tarik O’Regan and American composer Eric Whitacre.

The Tudor Choir performs Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Hillsboro. Photo: William Stickney Photography.

Speaking of female Oregon composers, as we were earlier, Sunday’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony concert features music by two more: MYS violinist and composer Katie Palka’s The Breathing Earth and Corvallis composer/violinist Jayanthi Joseph’s Olam. Even the main composition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever-thrilling Scheherazade, celebrates a woman who used her creativity to survive. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch feature about this concert and Palka tomorrow.

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MusicWatch Weekly: community spirit

Musical highlights around Oregon this week

This week’s Oregon music highlights feature several concerts devoted to bringing communities together and celebrating various heritages that help make up the larger community that we all belong to. Please add your suggested music events in the comments section below.

Leyla McCalla performs at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall Saturday.

“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 eastern Oregon. 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 through September 30.
Wednesday, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 22267 OR Highway 86, Baker City; Thursday, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, 47106 Wildhorse Blvd. Pendleton.

Eugene Symphony
The orchestra performs a recent work by contemporary Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas, and Joyce Yang solos in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 before the orchestra unless that pinnacle of Russian Romanticism, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Music for Everyone Day
A wide variety of musicians, including the Woolen Men, Skull Diver, Ashi, JoJoScott and more, supply the tunes in this free, family-friendly four hour celebration.
Friday, Portland City Hall.

The Gondoliers
Light Opera of Portland’s latest Gilbert & Sullivan show.
Friday-Sunday, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

The Dover Quartet performs in Ashland. Photo:Tom Emerson.

Dover Quartet
The Chamber Music Northwest favorites return to Oregon to play quartets by contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour, Tchaikovsky, and Bartók.
Friday, Southern Oregon University Recital Hall, Ashland.

The Broken Consort
One of the most potentially exciting additions to Oregon’s music scene, this early music ensemble recently relocated from Boston and New York to Portland. Their repertoire ranges far beyond the too-limited scope of the state’s other historically informed performers, including new music (they just recorded an album of originals by leader and singer Emily Lau), and this concert focuses on American baroque music. Yes, there was such a thing. People were making music in the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. The eight musicians, who hail from Portland, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond, sing and play music written in the New England colonies (by composers like the great William Billings and Francis Hopkinson), in Spanish colonial America, shape note hymns, and even 19th century songs by Stephen Foster. But they’ll also perform music for ngoni, the instrument brought by African slaves, Native American chants and more, including the west coast premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s 2016 Green Field of Amerikay. It’s the fall’s most fascinating concert.
Saturday, Nordia House, and Sunday, The Hallowed Halls, Portland.

Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival
The fifth annual celebration of a true Oregon original and legendary Native American jazz saxophonist includes Tracy Lee Nelson, Winona LaDuke, Gary Ogan, and more. And if you’re interested in Pepper’s life and work, check out Organic Listening Club’s latest edition at Artists Repertory Theater on October 17.
Saturday, Parkrose High School, Portland.

Taiko Together
If you live outside Japan and enjoy the stirring sounds of Japanese percussion music, or just like whacking on big drums,  Portland is the place to be. This concert brings together all four of the city’s taiko ensembles — Portland Taiko, Takohachi, En Taiko, and Unit Souzou — in a celebration of some of the world’s most, ah, striking sounds. It’s a fine opportunity to sample the different varieties available too, from youth-oriented classes to traditional tunes to folk dance to new music and more.
Saturday, P.C.C. Sylvania, Performing Arts Center.

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

The Vanport Mosaic and Maxville Heritage
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s fascinating new project kicks off with a free performance featuring music performed by singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Ezra Weiss, featuring Weiss’s song with lyrics by Renee Mitchell, inspired by the story of Maxville. This afternoon discussion event includes presentations about Maxville and Vanport, followed by a talk with the artistic creators, who are hoping to receive input from the community itself for this important multimedia community history project.
Saturday, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland.

Leyla McCalla
Former Carolina Chocolate Drop cellist/singer/guitarist/banjoist Leyla McCalla’s music draws on her Haitian heritage as well as the Creole, Cajun, jazz and French influences that still simmer in and around her New Orleans home. McCalla’s covers of traditional song and sometimes poignant, sometimes danceable, expertly crafted original music reflect the vitality of the many rich folk traditions she’s assimilated.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, Portland.

OneBeat
Organized by NYC’s Bang on a Can new music collective and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the four-year-old OneBeat program brings young (age 19-35) musicians from around the world to collaboratively create original music, play it on tour, lead workshops with local young audiences, and “develop strategies for arts-based social engagement” when they return to their home countries. This year’s fellows include South African vocalist Nonku Phiri; Aisaana Omorova, a komuz (traditional three-stringed strummed instrument) player from Kyrgyzstan; Chicago-based producer Elijah Jamal; and Belorussian producer and singer Natalia Kuznetskaya. The program has come to Sisters, Portland and elsewhere around the nation in years past; see it now before our current rulers find out about this effort to increase intercultural understanding.
Saturday, The Belfry, Sisters.

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