Carolyn Quick

Music by uncommon women: Makrokosmos 7

Piano-centric new music shindig returns to live performance at Portland Piano Company and Japanese Gardens

The Makrokosmos Project, now in its seventh year, has become a form of homecoming for Portland’s contemporary music scene. People from all over–students, musicians, critics and ardent fans–come together for the intimate gathering each summer. This was also a homecoming for Stephanie Ho, one half (with Saar Ahuvia) of Makro’s central piano duo: Ho’s mother, grandmother and cousins were in attendance.

Makrokosmos used to make its home in the lobby of the Vestas building in the Pearl district, but this year split the proceedings into two concerts a month apart. The first took place June 24 at the loading dock of Portland Piano Company out by the airport, where train horns, traffic and a bird in the rafters who refused to leave joined in on the fun. Dry air rose from the concrete and the afternoon sun was high. Still, the impromptu vibe of the concert is something we rarely get from the more formal affairs of classical music concerts.

The second concert in July was more of a recording session. There were about fifteen of us in the gorgeous pavilion at the Japanese Gardens on a perfect summer afternoon. Behind the dual pianos and past the shoji we could see into the Flat Garden, where white specks of pollen were swirling between the maples. It was a steamy ninety degrees out that afternoon, which sounds downright chilly after the stunning heat wave we just experienced. The environment was much more idyllic, to say the least, but each had their charm.

Socializing at Makrokosmos is incredibly easy. The vibrant audience, the wide cast of musicians and the wine-and-cheese hor d’oeuvres lend the whole affair a feeling of being at a cocktail party or mixer, one of the things that makes Makrokosmos unique. You can strike up a conversation with nearly anyone, including the performers. At the June concert my partner and I started talking with someone before realizing that we were talking to emcee/RBG-quote-reader Stephanie Cordell.


MusicWatch Weekly: The magic is in the middle

Prog, Shaw, Wolfe, African funk, Indian classical, and an Austro-Bohemian tribute band

There are a handful of things that make a city’s musical culture feel complete. You need several symphony orchestras and large choirs, and they all have to be pretty damn good. You also need several smaller choral and instrumental ensembles overlapping with and supplementing the larger bands; ideally, these smaller units will be a little more adventurous, and probably a lot more stylish.

You need an ecosystem of local and touring bands across the various spectra of genre and heft, not just the big names and your friend’s solo noise-pop project but a solid middle-register balance of lesser-known but high-quality musical acts. This middle ground principle applies equally to rock, jazz, classical, and all the rest: the magic is in the middle.

Finally, you need a diverse assortment of music from a variety of cultures. After arriving here from the sprawling metropolis of [redacted] in 2001, I knew Portland was a Serious Musical City when I saw just how easy it is to hear Indian classical music here–to say nothing of the broad assortment of groups playing music rooted in traditions from Africa, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Japan, Latin America, Russia, and so on. Touring acts come from all over, which is nice, but it’s the abundance of local-international musicians that’s really impressive.

We’ll talk about all of that in a minute. First, let’s talk about the Big Fish and its Favorite Bohemian.


Hearing injustice

Monday’s FearNoMusic concert features new music composed in response to last year’s Supreme Court confirmation battle over alleged sexual harassment

As Portland composer Kenji Bunch watched last year’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which included accusations of sexual assault, he “had this weird idea of a concert” based on the hearings.

“It was such a fraught moment, a watershed event,” Bunch recalled. “Something about the theatricality of that hearing just seemed to me that it could work for this kind of artistic exploration.”

Violinist and composer Kenji Bunch. Photo: Bob Keefer.

Bunch, artistic director of Portland new music ensemble Fear No Music, mused about the notion on Facebook. Immediately, New York composer Daniel Felsenfeld endorsed the idea. So did others, including fellow Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer.


MusicWatch Monthly: A Septemberful of ‘music’

"Classical" music, "Hip-hop" music, "Queer" music, "Experimental" music

Well, friends, you’ve got a helluva nice September to look forward to. Oregon Symphony provides live backup to the greatest movie of all time and also Wyclef Jean. Cappella Romana performs a bunch of Byzantine music, Kalakendra and Rasika present Indian classical music and dance, Nordic folk band Sver comes to Alberta Rose, and local rapper Fountaine headlines a free Labor Day hip-hop fest.

FearNoMusic and Third Angle swing back into full Relevant Classical mode this month, while Oregon Repertory Singers perform local composer Joan Szymko. Portland State’s Queer Opera presents gender-bent opera scenes and art songs, Dolphin Midwives plays a Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony, and the Extradition Series imports a Canadian trumpeter.

We’ve even got a few concerts for you outside the Portland metro area, in case the shame trolls decide they want another helping of bananafied humiliation optics, police cover, wasted city resources, and charitable donations.

“Drip, drip.”