cascadia composers

$50 million? It’s a beginning

ArtsWatch Weekly: An emergency lifeline to Oregon's cultural sector staves off pandemic disaster. But the economic problem is still urgent.

FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS SOUNDS LIKE A LOT. AND IT IS. But spread it across the entire state of Oregon to aid a cultural infrastructure devastated economically by pandemic shutdowns and the cash runs out pretty quickly. The Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board approved the bailout on Tuesday, as part of a $200 million general economic package distributed by the state through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. The significant cultural part of the package came after a spirited lobbying push by groups and individuals, and notably recognized an economic truth that is often overlooked: Cultural workers are workers, and when they lose work they undergo the same stresses as anyone else thrown out of a job. “People who work in cultural organizations have families, have to pay the mortgage or the rent, have children to feed,” Brian Rogers, executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. “Without these funds coming in, these organizations are having a difficult time.”

The Emergency Board, and the state itself, can’t solve all the problems of the reeling cultural sector by themselves. The $50 million E Board allocation is exactly what it says it is – an emergency measure, meant to lend a significant hand during a disaster and help stave off collapse. It can’t magically make up the lost income of an entire industry that’s been hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic. A statewide Cultural Trust survey in May projected a $40 million loss by June 30 for the 330 cultural groups (out of more than 1,400 that the Trust tracks) that responded. It’s now mid-July, with no clear end in sight, and the losses keep piling up. For perspective, the $4.71 million that the E Board is delivering to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which got the biggest allocation granted, covers a little more than 10 percent of the festival’s annual budget.

Everything’s coming up virtual. The 70-year-old Salem Art Association Art Fair and Festival, pictured in a previous year, becomes a virtual event this year, celebrated long-distance on Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust 


Passing the Torch

Cascadia Composers' In Good Hands program expands students' musical horizons and brings Oregon music to the next generations

The typical piano recital goes something like this: assigned standard works by teachers, students dutifully perform some bite-sized Bach, a morsel of Mozart, a sampling of Schumann, maybe a token 20th century work created a century or more before they were born. Parents proudly applaud. Then the students go home and listen to the music they really like, the music of their time, until it’s time to practice Ye Olde Masters again. After a few years, many student recitalists find other outlets for their musical interests.

What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if students could play music from their own time and place? And instead of merely “reciting” standard rep that’s been played zillions of times by as many students — what if they could also engage creatively with the music they’re playing?

THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series

That was the vision Cascadia Composers founder David Bernstein suggested to Portland Piano International founder Harold Gray in 2009. Before moving to Oregon, Bernstein had been involved in a program in Cleveland, where he was a music professor, that connected area composers to piano students. A concert of music by Northwest composers, performed by Portland-area piano students, would make a splendid addition to a summer festival almost entirely dominated by music from centuries ago and oceans away, Gray and Bernstein thought.

The 2018 In Good Hands performers

This Saturday afternoon, July 11, Cascadia presents its 10th annual In Good Hands recital, featuring student performers from both the Portland and Eugene metro areas will play new music written by eleven Cascadia Composers members. Anyone interested in the future of Oregon music can tune in via Zoom or at the archived video on the Cascadia website. It’s a milestone for a program that not only provides unique educational benefits for its student participants, but also bolsters contemporary Oregon classical music’s future.

Matching Music to Students

Many if not most classic European composers (Ravel, Prokofiev, Schumann, Bartok etc.) enjoyed, and/or paid the bills by teaching and writing music for students. Many Cascadia Composers are piano teachers too, including Dan Brugh, the 2009 Oregon Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year, whom Bernstein and Gray tapped to lead what Gray dubbed In Good Hands. Brugh quickly realized that managing a score call and recital program, and coordinating among Cascadia, OMTA, and PPI, demanded hyper organized help. 

He found it in Cascadia president Jan Mittelstaedt, and the two have traded off the lead role and shared most of the managerial duties ever since. Other members of the organization have helped out in different ways, from getting programs printed to obtaining the roses that participating composers charmingly present to the students who play their pieces at the recital — a symbolic passing on of the legacy of keeping Oregon music flowering through succeeding generations. 

Cascadia supplies a database of compositions suitable for student performers at various skill levels, supplied by member composers in response to an annual call for scores. OMTA publicizes the program to its member teachers, and those interested peruse the available scores (including recordings and program notes) for those they think suitable to their students’ interests and educational needs. Once a student and teacher agree on a piece, they get to meet with the composer to discuss its background, technical issues, adjustments if necessary, and so on. 

Dan Brugh congratulates an In Good Hands performer.

The pieces are as varied in style as the composers and students, with some students occasionally even embracing works written in the 20th century 12-tone modernist style. But in general, composers look to grab students with “catchy, rhythmic pieces that engage them initially and not too difficult technically or notationally,” says Eugene composer Paul Safar, who has several students participating in this year’s program.

Another longtime participant, Portland’s Dianne Davies, recalled a meeting at which participating teacher “Irene Huang said students like ‘melody, melody, melody.’ If it doesn’t have a melody, kids don’t want to play it. They also like consistent and driving rhythm. It has to have one of those two, and it’s best if it has both.”

Veteran teachers like Davies and Mittelstaedt tailor pieces to students’ interests and educational needs. “When I compose for students, I think about what they do well,” Mittelstaedt explains, “for example, if they like fast pieces, if they can do a five finger pattern fast, if they can move around the keyboard. It’s a different kind of composing when you’re writing for students.”

Going Virtual 

The recitals initially took place at the World Forestry Center during PPI’s annual summer festival. They differ from standard recitals because they’d involve a dozen on more students from various teachers instead of just one. Moreover, the programs consisted entirely of contemporary music rather than pedagogical classics, with a much greater variety of styles, ranging from neo-romantic to jazzy and many others.  

But after three years, Gray retired, putting IGH on hold, its future in doubt. After skipping a year, Brugh determined that In Good Hands must survive, solely as a Cascadia Composers initiative. Since then, Mittelstaedt says, the series has occasionally looked beyond the usual single-pianist format to include Tomas Svoboda’s Canon for Unlimited Voices featuring 14 (!) pianists, another Svoboda composition for organ, works for toy pianos (courtesy of Cascadia’s Jennifer Wright), solo flute, voice, and even combos (flute, violin and piano, flute and cello). The annual recitals moved from Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall to The Old Church Concert Hall to Portland Piano Company and for the last two summers, back to PSU.

Portland Piano International’s Harold Gray

Until this year, that is. With the pandemic scuttling so many performances, In Good Hands faced its toughest challenge since separating from PPI: how to continue performances when crowds of the size that thronged previous concerts weren’t permitted?

Once again, Dan Brugh said, “I will not let it die. It’s too important for young people and the composers. I will do anything I have to to make sure it continues. It could have ended [in 2014 after PPI pulled out]. It could have ended this year. I said, ‘we can do video.’” 

So, like many others in this plagued spring and summer, In Good Hands is going online. Students will record their own performances and Cascadia will stream it live and then archive the video. And with physical distance no longer posing a barrier, this year’s virtual performance will also be the first time students from Eugene will be participating. 

“With this pandemic [response], we’re teaching students how to embrace technology and videos,” Brugh says. “It’s important that students realize that they should have a YouTube station. It’s pushing us all into this new level of artistry. I hope we continue this live streaming even if we come back to live performances, maybe some combo of pre-recorded performances and some live, with students doing their own recordings.”

Expanding Horizons 

Teaching students about video making and streaming will be only the latest aspect of In Good Hands’s contribution to Oregon musical education. Compared to performing classics of past centuries, playing new music “opens up their ears to new sounds, new techniques, new things to learn,” says Safar. “Every composer’s got a different voice. It’s so important not be boxed into any particular genre, especially antiquated ones. When I was younger, [playing new music] helped me  not be afraid of it, to take it on its own terms. Learning new music can’t help but expand them musically, whether they end up becoming professional musicians or not.”  

Composer, teacher and pianist Paul Safar

Not only does participating in IGH keep students practicing music over the summer when many stop taking regular lessons, the program also provides a unique motivation for study that standard recitals can’t. Portland teacher Irene Huang, who has 13 students participating this year, normally plays through the classics when introducing them to her students and helps them understand various ways they’ve been interpreted. But Huang, whose own musical education was dominated standard classical repertoire, she can’t do that with new, unfamiliar music. 

“I hand the music to the students and tell them, ‘This is fresh out of the oven. I’m not playing it for you because I’ve never played it. You’ll be in charge — take it home bring it back to me and let me know what have you learned,’” Huang explains. “So they get to be the teacher. It’s more a motivation to them to be in charge instead of ‘this is what my teacher assigned me and I need to follow what she said.’ And when I tell them ‘you’ll be premiering this piece, and it’s never been played before in public and you’ll be the first one — that sends them to the moon!”

Because of that sense of ownership, Huang says, performing in In Good Hands especially encourages reticent performers. “Most of my students are Asian,” she laughs, “and some can be shy and timid, so sometimes it’s hard to get them up there to perform. Through In Good Hands, many of my students become not as passive. They’re very happy and excited to show everyone what they’ve learned.”

Finding Their Voices

Students’ personal stake in the music also comes from their personal connection to the composers. Working with composers on their interpretations gives students an opportunity to divine what the composers intended in a way that’s impossible to do with long-dead composers. “If composer and students are working together and the composer explains their motivation and inspiration in writing the piece, or gives suggestions on how want it played, it helps them a lot,” Mittelstaedt says. For example, one of this year’s performers, a student of Safar’s, is playing her “Dusk,” and she was explaining how she imagined the different sections sounded. “This area is like velvet,” she told him. “Imagine you’re touching velvet — that’s how you’d play it.” 

Composer, teacher and pianist Jan Mittelstaedt

In a piece called “Childhood Memories,” a student didn’t understand why the middle section was dark and spooky. “It’s about the things you’re afraid of, like the monster in the closet,” composer Dianne Davies told her. One piece of hers played by one of Huang’s students is based on a story about a jaguar chasing its prey, and Davies allows students to inform their performances of the ending based on whether they think the jaguar caught its victim or not.

“I’m honored to be part of In the Good Hands concert,” wrote Huang’s 11-year-old student Thalia Wong. “When I play piano, I try to imagine what the composers try to express in their music. This time, I get to personally connect with the composers! I love that they can give me feedback for my performance. This helps me to understand the music more, and makes it more special. It’s also exciting to be the first to perform this brand new piece of music.”

Davies, Brugh and Safar also acknowledge how educational it can be for students to bring their own interpretations to a work, even if different from their own original intentions. “It was really touching to hear a student play a piece of mine called “Lonesome Waltz,” Davies recalls. “She didn’t play it exactly how I envisioned it, but it was incredible to hear someone play a piece I’d written with such deep emotional attachment that she made something I’d brought into existence mean something to her, too.”  

Brugh had a similar experience, when a teacher suggested a student play his piece without using the pedal that adds reverberation. Brugh heard it and said “bathe it in pedal! But the teacher said ‘I told her not to do that!’ That’s the beauty of In Good Hands. The teacher, composer and student come together and they learn from each other.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the student to decide how to interpret the music, as long they keep the spirit of the music, Brugh says. “To learn the expression of a new piece, to make it their own benefits the students musically. You’re not just learning it by rote, but you really learn about yourself and what music means to you. You’re teaching a student to find their own voice.”

This year, some composers are even able to give students rehearsal feedback because the students can send them videos of their practices. One student this year even said participating in the process has made him more interested in doing his own composition. “I recently learned the piece entitled “Snowbound” by Jan Mittelstaedt for part of my syllabus Level 6 exam,” wrote student Tyler Raven. “I enjoyed learning and performing it. It was awesome to then be able to meet Jan. I was able to play the piece for her and we talked about what the piece was about, what inspired her to write it, and discussed different parts of it. This program was a great way for me to learn about a composer and has inspired me to continue to write my own music.” 

Enriching Oregon Music

Composers benefit too.  “As a composer you realize the value of writing a piece that’s not hard,” Brugh explains. “We all write these extraordinarily complex pieces with big concepts but this year I wrote a piece called “Martian Camper” and it’s fun and it’s still music. You don’t always have to reinvent the world. In simplifying, sometimes you get closer to your inner voice.” 

Davies has gained valuable perspective from IGH. “It’s made me more aware of different subject matters to write about,” she says. “My first pieces were about me — my childhood memories. The other pieces have been about topics that students would be interested in,” like disappearing wildlife threatened by humans’ encroachment on their habitats. “I’m finishing my second set of Rainforest Animals,” inspired by endangered species like jaguar, Toucan Macaw, three toed sloth, golden poison dart frog. “Kids care more than adults — they’re worried about their world. So in thinking about what students want to play, my perspective has changed. It’s expanded beyond myself.” 

Composer, teacher and pianist Dianne Davies

Even teachers benefit from IGH. “Seeing my students wanting to learn something new out of their teacher’s comfort zone helps me get out of my comfort zone to play more contemporary music,” Huang says. “My tastes and appreciation of contemporary music has changed through these years. I’m starting to enjoy Oregon music more. The different rhythmic and tone colors have been getting into my ear and head more. I feel like I’m getting a little bit younger through exposure to new music.”

As IGH teachers, students, and audience members gain exposure to contemporary Oregon music, they, in turn, provide the next generations of Oregon music performers and listeners. “The hope is that it will carry over” beyond the recital performance,” Mittelstaedt says. “We’re also training future listeners. The more experiences with Oregon music they have like this, the more they’ll understand it.”

Safar, who’s had music played in almost every IGH recital, has seen the legacy growing as In Good Hands begins its second decade of seeding Oregon music. “Early on, one student played a piece of mine,” he recalls. “His hands were so little he couldn’t even reach the octaves. Maybe four or five years later, he played a piano duet of mine with another student — and he was all grown up, no longer a 10 year old, still playing my music.” 


You can Zoom into this year’s virtual In Good Hands performance at 3 pm Saturday, July 11. After the event, see videos of the performances at Cascadia Composers website. Teachers, parents, and students interested in the program should contact Jan Mittelstaedt at

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Summer Streams

Chamber Music Northwest and Oregon Bach Festival lead parade of Oregon summer shows from onstage to online

Normally around this time, we’d be telling you all about Oregon’s two major summer classical music festivals, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival, both celebrating their 50th anniversaries this summer. But ‘normally’ scampered off awhile back, to return who knows when, if ever. So CMNW and OBF, along with many other festivals, orchestras, ensembles, and opera companies around the world that have turned to streaming live and/or archival video and/or audio as a substitute for suspended live performances. Anyone who’s been writhing in Zoom hell for the past few months knows that online can’t fully replace in-person experiences, but for now, all we have to do is stream, stream, stream. 

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s trio performance by Ida Kavafian, Peter Wiley and Steven Tenenbom.

Live and Archived

Beginning Monday, June 22 (the opening program is available through 11:59 p.m.Tuesday, June 23) and continuing through July 26, you can hear Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival, with three digital concerts appearing each week on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7 pm and available through the next day at and on Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel. It includes a mix of five all-new streamed performances featuring some of America’s most distinguished classical chamber players, all longtime CMNW/Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center vets who happen to be related by birth or marriage, and so able to perform together from their New York homes without fear of contagion — literally, hausmusik. The performances, prerecorded over the past two weeks, are preceded by introductions commentary by the artists.

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s Neubauer family concert

A baker’s dozen archived shows feature new music by some of America’s finest living composers (David Lang, Valerie Coleman, Kevin Puts and more), family-friendly fare both classic (Carnival of the Animals) and contemporary (Bruce Adolphe’s Marita and Her Heart’s Desire), a collaboration with Portland dance troupe BodyVox, a multi concert complete cycle of Beethoven’s magnificent string quartets by Austin’s Miro Quartet, a Peter Schickele tribute, an all-French concert, and a streamload of chamber classics from the 18th through 20th centuries — including a swan song starring longtime retiring artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin.

Bright Sheng’s ‘The Silver River’ finally debuted at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Top recommendation: the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. And stay tuned for more previews by ArtsWatch music editor Matthew Andrews.

My Bach Pages

The virus crisis has also forced the University of Oregon’s Oregon Bach Festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary by streaming archival recordings to replace its canceled 2020 edition — essentially a half century’s greatest hits. Hosted by Eugene’s own golden voiced classical music announcer Peter van de Graaff, the Radio Festival will be broadcast live on KWAX FM (over the radio and its website) from June 26 through July 10 and feature one-time (no online archiving) OBF performances recorded from 1979 through last year  — its Bach catalog, as it were. 

Traditionalists will swoon over staples like Bach’s St. Matthew (June 26) and St. John Passions (July 3, featuring the incomparable bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff), Monteverdi’s Vespers (July 1), Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Handel’s Messiah (June 29), Verdi’s Requiem (June 30) and so many more.

New music fans will welcome the chance to hear world premieres of contemporary commissions next month. Celebrated Scottish composer James Macmillan’s A European Requiem airs July 7, and Ralph M. Johnson’s short, sweet This House of Peace June 30, while the July 9 broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died earlier this year.

Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Helmuth Rilling conducts a performance of Sven-David Sandström’s “Messiah” in 2009. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers

You can also tune in to Quasthoff’s memorable, must-hear 1998 recital on July 8, in a segment that also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Other concerts include Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos on July 6 (a perfect intro for classical newbies and perennial for OG baroque fans), Mendelssohn’s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 2 and classics by Schubert, CPE Bach (June 30, from 2019, the most recent show), and, sprinkled throughout, cantatas by his dad, the festival’s namesake.

Most of these performances were conducted by the festival’s founding music director, Helmuth Rilling, one of the 20th century’s most respected Bach specialists. But the closing July 10 broadcast featuring maybe Johann Sebastian’s ultimate creation, the mighty b minor Mass, was conducted by Rilling’s successor, Matthew Halls. In that and the July 1 concert, he leads an orchestra of early music specialists playing on the instruments and in the tunings closest to what Bach intended — signaling Halls’s valuable transformation of the festival from so much older then, it’s younger than that now. So it’s at once the most historical performance in the lineup — and the most forward looking, and an excellent chance to compare Halls’ and Rilling’s very different approaches. We fervently hope the festival will continue the since-ousted Halls’s turn toward historically informed performances. 

Hands Across the Web

The pandemic diverted another significant Oregon contemporary classical music anniversary from live to streamed performance. Cascadia Composers’ 10th annual In Good Hands recital showcases talented student performers from the Eugene and Portland metro areas performing homegrown new solo piano music written by Cascadia Composers members David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Ally Rose Czyzewiez, Dianne Davies, John De Runtz, Adam Eason, Jan Mittelstaedt, Lisa Neher, Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Paul Safar and Nicholas Yandell. This excellent connector between contemporary Oregon music and the next generation of Oregon musicians streams live at 3 pm Saturday, July 11 and will be available on demand archived at Cascadia Composers’ web site.  

The organization was originally scheduled to be a big part of the annual New Music Gathering that this year was supposed to happen in Portland. It’s since moved online, but CC and Portland composers and performers still enrich the program, including:

• Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon, Geter, and other composers talking about music and activism.

• Portland composer Jennifer Wright and her Skeleton Piano and an all-Cascadia “concert” assembled from earlier performances

• Portland composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s Triptych, (libretto by  Patrick Wohlmut)inspired by local disasters including the Tillamook Burn, Vanport Flood, and the inevitable Really Big One

• Portland composer Scott Unrein’s bird drawn in the sky of light, whose title is also a line in a gorgeous composition, In Honor of Aphrodite, by the late, great Portland-born composer Lou Harrison that I’ve had the joy of singing several times over the years. Other upcoming Oregon appearances include Resonance Ensemble and Third Angle New Music (Friday), Portland composer Ryan Francis and FearNoMusic pianist Jeff Payne talking about the group’s valuable Young Composers Workshop, eminent new music pianist and Portland native Kathleen Supove, Portland State University Percussion Ensemble, Opera Theater Oregon, Portland new music violist Christina Ebersohl, Portland composer Timothy Arliss O’Brien, and even Portland composer and ArtsWatch’s own music editor Matthew Andrews, and some of the country’s most renowned contemporary classical musicians and composers. Performances, discussions, and talks continue through the month, and it’s all archived for on demand gazing and listening.

R. Andrew Lee plays Scott Unrein’s ‘bird drawn in the sky of light’ at this month’s virtual New Music Gathering.

Other Oregon summer music festivals are also coming to your screens and speakers. Portland’s Creative Music Guild switched its Outset series to streaming, with remaining shows featuring New Orleans percussionist Diamond Kinkade and Portland hip hopper Gohan Blanco (June 23), and Ixnay on the Icket-thay & Quarantet 2020 featuring audio and video by John Niekrasz, Maxx Katz, Benjamin Kates, Mack McFarland and more (June 30).

Since early April, Oregon’s scintillating Pickathon music festival has raised over $140,000 for MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund via its A Concert A Day series of videos drawn from its vault of never-before-seen multi-cam, post-edited, and mastered footage of festival performances over the past decade. Proceeds support the artists who were scheduled to perform at this year’s now-scuppered festival. The organization has now extended the fundraiser through June, streaming sets from Wolf Parade, Langhorne Slim, Charley Crockett, Open Mike Eagle, Blind Pilot, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

• Bend’s  Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. The festival still hopes to award $35,000 in scholarships to classical music students for next school  year.

Lost in Streamland

We may be stuck at home, yet it seems like there’s more music available to us than ever. I’ve been enjoying streams, some live, some archived, from Oregon musicians: 45th Parallel Universe and its Portland Social Distance Ensemble, Resonance Ensemble (ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter’s The Talk and Agnus Dei, both on All Classical FM’s Played in Oregon show, available for two more weeks, along with an interview with Geter on the station’s State of the Arts show), Juneteenth (a jazz and hip hop-oriented celebration streamed from Portland jazz club Jack London Revue), Musica Maestrale, Cappella Romana, and more, including CMNW’s series of past performances airing on All Classical. 

I’ve also tuned into new music from beyond Oregon from Bang on a Can Marathon 2020, Minnesota Opera (Doubt, based on the Broadway hit play), Seattle’s Music of Remembrance, Metropolitan Opera (the magnificent recent productions Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and Satyagraha, and lots more. I recommend checking out this Friday’s 45th Parallel stream featuring poet Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet, reprising some of the powerful words and music from their extraordinary 2019 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. On Wednesday afternoon, KBOO FM will stream Portland composer Ezra Weiss’ fierce, ambitious big band composition We Limit Not The Truth of God, recommended in our recent round up of jazz-oriented Oregon recordings. And next Thursday, June 24, All Classical Portland’s Thursdays@3 program features sometime Portland composer Andy Akiho, with that episode available for streaming online for two weeks.

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more previews of upcoming Oregon performances. Until we can meet again in person, obey the wisdom of Aerosmith and stream on, y’all.

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Want to tell ArtsWatch readers about other streaming Oregon music? The comments section below is open for business.

MusicWatch Monthly: Fabulous February

Composers, composers, composers! ...and a jazz festival

Classical weekend

This weekend, you can take your pick of classical music concerts: choral, chamber, or orchestral (or all three, if you have the stamina). On the 7th and 8th, Portland Lesbian Choir celebrates the ratification of the 19th Amendment (guaranteeing women’s right to vote) with their “Born to Celebrate” concert at Central Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland. The most exciting thing about this concert: a premiere of a new 19th Amendment-themed work commissioned by PLC from Portland composer Joan Szymko, whose music has been a highlight of recent Resonance Ensemble and Oregon Repertory Singers concerts.

Also on the 7th and 8th, at local theater company Bag & Baggage’s cozy Hillsboro venue The Vault, Northwest Piano Trio performs Shostakovich’s second piano trio as the live score for playwright Emily Gregory’s intimate end-of-life play The Undertaking. In this unique collaboration with B&B and director Jessica Wallenfels’ Many Hats Productions, the trio will be onstage with the actors. On the 8th at Portland State University, PSU violin-piano duo Tomas Cotik and Chuck Dillard will perform Mozart, Schubert, and Piazzolla–three of the four composers Cotik specializes in (the other, of course, is Bach). And if you already have tickets to Portland Opera’s An American Quartet, don’t forget that it opens this weekend–and if you don’t have tickets yet, you’d better hurry!

Also this weekend, the Oregon Symphony relegates two more living composers to the Fanfare Zone. Their “Pictures at an Exhibition” program (concerts Friday in Salem and Saturday-Monday in Portland) manages to make room for twelve minutes of Missy Mazzoli and thirteen minutes of Gabriella Smith between the half-hour blocks of decomposers Mussorgsky and Paganini. I get that we’re supposed to be grateful to OSO for playing anything at all by living composers and women composers, and we really are grateful that they commissioned a new work from Smith: living composers need to eat! But we’ll never tire of complaining about the Fanfare Zone, and we won’t stop until the ratios are reversed and decomposers have to compete for their token opening spot on concerts dominated by Zwilich concerti and Tower tone poems.


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.


MusicWatch Weekly: How to decide

Your guide to choosing a balanced musical diet

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Mr. Music Editor Guy, how the [redacted] am I supposed to pick one of these million shows you’re always telling us about?” Good question, dear foul-mouthed reader. The short answer, as always, is: follow your bliss!

But you want a real answer, don’t you? Normally, you might use genre as a guideline. But genre is dead and can’t help you anymore. Instead, I have three recommended methods for picking a weekend of concerts. First: rely on institutions. Second: use this newfangled interweb thingy to listen ahead of time to whatever’s happening on whichever morning/afternoon/evening you happen to be free. Third: ask your friends!

Rely on institutions

It may sound strange to hear a certified Discordian Pope telling you to rely on institutions, since any organization stuffy enough to earn the name “institution” is pretty reliably unreliable. But Oregon is blessed with several well-established music organizations that have earned our Trust in such matters.

Two of these are Cascadia Composers and Fear No Music, both of whom celebrate contemporary “classical” music and the (usually living) composers who create it, both of whom have concerts at The Old Church in the next week (Cascadia Saturday, FNM Monday). Stay tuned for Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s FNM Hearings preview tomorrow, and he’ll have something to say about Cascadia in just a moment. For now, I’d like to tell you about two other Portland institutions with shows coming up: School of Rock and Creative Music Guild.



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.”