caballito negro

MusicWatch Weekly: females in the foreground

Oregon concerts put women front and center

Women’s History Month just passed, but fortunately, times are changing enough that Oregon performers and presenters are no longer confining half the human race’s creative accomplishments to only one-twelfth of the calendar year. Several concerts this week focus on women’s voices and stories.

Preview: The Passion According to an Unknown Witness from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Vimeo.

The Ensemble of Oregon commissioned one of Oregon’s most nationally recognized composers, University of Oregon prof Robert Kyr, to create The Passion According to an Unknown Witness. The hour-long composition retells the famous Passion story set by Bach and many others — from the point of view of the women who journeyed with Jesus in the myth, including Christ’s mom and Mary Magdalene. Musicians from 45th Parallel and Trinity Choir join Portland’s all star small vocal ensemble, featuring some of Oregon’s finest singers in this world premiere. Pre concert talk at 4 pm, concert 5 pm Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave, Portland.

Shirley Nanette, back in the day.

Shirley Nanette has been a prominent singer on Portland’s jazz and soul music scene for decades, with performances at national festivals, regional clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony. But like so much of the city’s African American cultural heritage, her breakthrough 1973 album, Never Coming Back, featuring some of the historically black Albina neighborhood’s top musicians of the day, sank into obscurity. Now, DJ/producer/record collector/radio host/ writer Bobby Smith, the African-American arts nonprofit World Arts Foundation, and their Albina Music Trust, are refuting the album’s title by bringing back this lost music in a live performance of the album by Nanette and the Albina Soul Revue Band, starring some of today’s top Portland soul men, who’ve played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Prince to Bootsy Collins to Ages and Ages.
Saturday, Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St. Portland.

Chamber Music Amici contributes to redressing American classical music’s long-standing gender imbalance with first-rate music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, featuring music by one of today’s leading American composers, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon. Her colorful 2003 Piano Trio’s movements reflect their respective titles: the beautifully placid, Aaron Copland style “Pale Yellow” and the incendiary “Fiery Red.” The concert, which includes some of the Eugene area’s top classical players, also features an absorbing 1834 string quartet by that other Mendelssohn, Fanny, whose brother Felix regarded as a talent equal to his own, and Amy Beach’s ardent, late Romantic 1938 Piano Trio.
Monday, Wildish Community Theater, Springfield.

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Terry Longshore: percussion and collaboration

Southern Oregon professor and percussionist makes music from a vast range of influences and instruments

The rumor in Southern Oregon is that Terry Longshore can play anything. In addition to innumerable conventional percussion instruments, he also plays buckets, trashcans, sculptures, washing machines, mix-masters, and a variety of plants including the cactus. He also composes and records extensively. Key words to describe his work could be “inter-disciplinary, multi-media, collaborative, co-creative.”

As a Professor of Music at Southern Oregon University, Longshore draws students from all over the world, many of whom have embarked on distinguished careers themselves. He has concertized internationally, and it seems that every week or so he is forming a new duo or group with a new theme. His current ensembles include Left Edge Percussion, Caballito Negro flute and percussion duo,  Left Edge (multi-media), and the flamenco groups Flamenco Pacifico and Dúo Flamenco, all based in Southern Oregon and traveling extensively.

Terry Longshore

Longshore’s groups have performed frequently in Portland as well as Ashland. His duo, Caballito Negro with flutist Tessa Brinckman performed the music-with-poetry piece, Alone |Together, in February 2018 at Abbie Weisenbloom Presents (see Matthew Andrews’ ArtWatch review). Last September, Caballito Negro included flutist Elizabeth McNutt, Portland Percussion Group co-founder Chris Whyte, and SOU graduate percussionist Jared Brown to perform John Luther Adams’s evocative Songbirdsongs, first in Ashland, and later in Portland, and he’s involved in a major Ashland concert this Tuesday featuring new music by Oregon and Mexican composers. Longshore and and I recently met for a chat at ReMix, one of Ashland’s favorite coffee houses.

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Sounds beyond Shakespeare

Southern Oregon offers surprisingly rich range of classical music attractions

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: American originals

Music by American composers warms up February’s concert calendar

When Chamber Music Northwest favorites the Dover Quartet, one of America’s hottest youngish string quartets scheduled a 2004 piece from one of America’s hottest young (then 27 year old) composers on their CMNW program, they might have known that San Francisco-based composer Mason Bates, who has a side career as a club DJ, would have his opera about Steve Jobs running up the road in Seattle the same week. But they couldn’t have known that that opera would take home a Grammy, as it did last weekend. You can probably discern a few electronica-style grooves, as well as Indonesian gamelan textures, in the pointillistic opening and closing of his quartet From Amber Frozen, which Bates says depicts “a rose-colored world as if viewed by an insect from the Jurassic, forever sealed in a crystal of dried amber on a tree.”

The Dover Quartet performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Tom Emerson.

They’ll also play Tchaikovsky’s tearjerking third quartet, which pays passionate tribute to a violinist friend who died young, and the final quartet by another Romantic composer who also died way too young — Franz Schubert. As Reed College music prof David Schiff writes, “All four movements are on a monumental scale. In the first two movements Schubert immediately places us in an emotional soundscape which becomes ever more intense as the music unfolds…. The final movement … launches an extended perpetual motion that seems constantly to seek out an unambiguous state of lost innocence….”
7:30 PM Wednesday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Everybody knows Rhapsody in Blue, which likely ranks in the top three most recognizable works of American classical music. From that famous bluesy opening clarinet solo to the brassy, danceable first section to the gorgeous, expansive finale, George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece pulses with immortal melodies and Jazz Age urban pep — what the composer called “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” Its only real problem is overfamiliarity — in concert, on film soundtracks and recordings, many of us have heard it so much that it’s probably best suited as an introduction to classical concerts, like the Eugene Symphony’s Valentine’s Day show.

Not everybody knows that seven years later, Gershwin also wrote a second Rhapsody (originally titled Rhapsody in Rivets) that many regard as superior to, if not quite as tuneful as, the first. The Eugene Symphony is bringing pianist Pallavi Mahidhara to join the orchestra in both. The concert also offers two more stirring American works from the 1930s. Samuel Barber wrote his gritty, dramatic first symphony in 1936 — the same year he composed that other best-known American classic, his Adagio for strings, originally part of a string quartet.

The recommended concert boasts still another rarely heard North American gem from that same year: Musica para Charlar (Music for Chattering) by the most fascinating of all Mexican composers, and one of the 20th century’s finest, Silvestre Revueltas. He composed it for a film about the railroad arriving in Baja California, the year after composing what the eminent classical music authority Joseph Horowitz called one of the greatest of all film scores, Redes. Like Gershwin’s rhapsodies, it’s a fun, colorful piece that chugs along on train-like rhythms.

Why so much wonderful American music? Along with leading Oregon’s Britt Festival Orchestra, guest conductor Teddy Abrams, a rising young star destined to lead one of the world’s top orchestras someday, already conducts the Louisville Orchestra, which made its reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s by commissioning new works by American composers including Duke Ellington and Lou Harrison. Abrams, a protege of San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, is extending that wonderful legacy, and with splendid concerts like this, so is the Eugene Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

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MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

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Caballito Negro: embracing the void

Ashland-based flute and percussion duo strives to ‘connect with the world as it is’

I almost don’t want to tell you about Abbie Weisenbloom House in southeast Portland, where Ms. Weisenbloom has been hosting living room potluck shows for most of a decade. Like surfers and brunch enthusiasts, I don’t want to give up a sweet secret spot, lest it become overcrowded. This is, of course, an exquisitely Portlandian problem, and a bullshit one, which is why I’ve decided to tell you all about the intense, intimate concert I attended there on a dark, windy night in February. The stars of the evening: flutist Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore, a pair of accomplished Ashland-based musicians who compose, record and tour together as Caballito Negro.

I spoke with Brinckman and Longshore after the show, and later by phone; their answers have been edited for flow and clarity.

On “Caballito Negro” and Why They Do It

Longshore: We have played [George Crumb’s Madrigals] together with a wonderful vocalist, Christine Williams. And we found that that really spoke to us on the idea of both our modern music and our influence of musics of the world, traditional music of India, Spain, etc., and that cross-pollination of influence just there, hanging out for us to take.

Brinckman: I like also the translation: you can say “little black horse” or “little dark horse,” the English expression of being a dark horse. I like that. The idea of going where music is not nice but meaningful and necessary is something we are both quite fond of.

Longshore & Brinckman

There is always that moment, right before you’re about to go do performance and you’ve worked so hard and there is so much stuff and so many bits and pieces that can go wrong, and you think “what the hell was I thinking?” There is always that moment, and then the opposite of that is this ridiculous enthusiasm for music that is a visceral addiction. I can’t not do it.

Longshore: It’s the same thing for me. Once I started doing it, I couldn’t stop. It’s the combination of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual reward I get from doing it. And I know what it feels like when I am inspired by someone else’s art. And I always aspire to do that myself. I think some of the most rewarding things are when you know you’ve been moved by a performance you’ve given and it has moved someone. That you connected with someone at that level is a very special feeling.

Brinckman: I feel also that what we are doing is connecting with the world as it is. It’s not sticking our faces towards the wall and being separate from the world. It’s not ignoring the pain in what’s going on. And to really get mixed up in it is a worthy thing. I don’t want to be the kind of artist that is separate from it. Because I would feel ashamed. I feel a responsibility to connect with what is going on and not ignore something. So all the issues that are hot, getting hotter, there is always a way to react with it artistically.

My favorite art of anybody’s engages who we are. Using our privilege for good deeds. The good witches. Using our powers for good.

A Music Salon in Southeast Portland

An assortment of percussion instruments covered the little stage area, toy pianos and various flutes filling the rest of the space, a rug on the floor for Brinckman and Longshore to sit and play on. Chairs lined the living room, spilling over into the den, where I huddled under maps and books and tchotchkes and other souvenirs from Weisenbloom’s travels. An old upright piano anchored one wall, bookcases framed the others, a busy back kitchen buzzed with popping wine corks and potluck leftovers and audience chatter.

Upstage, the musicians were flanked by a drawing of Pan on the left and some Rothko-esque miniature to the right. Appropriate in myriad ways, that pair, Pan’s divine chthonic flute and Rothko’s divine foursquare order indicative of the Apollonian-Dionysian spirit in the house, classically trained musicians performing wildly personal intercultural modern music for a tribe of tipsy enthusiasts passing around hand-folded programs in a dimly lit living room.

It turns out Brinckman once lived in this same neighborhood, had in fact known Weisenbloom when she first turned her home into a music venue.

On Playing Weisenbloom House

Brinckman: Abbie was a neighbor of mine. I used to live right in that block. She has done an amazing job making a series of it work. She’s dedicated. She’s truly created a Parisian salon—she used to live in France, so she knows what she is doing. And she really wants to bring the world, as she says, to her house. What is beautiful about it is she gets people communing—eating and drinking—especially in the drinking before the concert, they’re in a space where they just want to connect. They’re not inhibited or wondering how comfortable they feel. They’re in it with us.

And that’s what we long for as musicians—that we’re not just kind of objects on stage. People crave things from us, demand things from us, and there is this kind of loop of energy that goes along. It’s always a competition going on with the audience, and you absolutely need that, otherwise you might as well stick on a CD and leave.

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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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