cascadia composers

I spent the last week in March recovering from the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It was the worst I had felt in a very long time: a whole Tuesday either napping, struggling to keep food down or hopelessly trying to read or watch something. It was an unpleasant forty-eight hours, but it’s hard to compare that against the existential dread and depressive ennui of the previous year.

At least there’s something in the future to look forward to, a wild summer where the masks start to come off and the concerts slowly start coming back. I’m personally looking forward to the opportunity to see Rhode Island noise-rock band Lightning Bolt, known for the absurd volume they can pump out of just bass and drums, as well as the return of the Oregon Symphony. Look out for my coverage of their new season, new music director, and new sound system.

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Music 2020: Streaming through the shutdown

Watching music at the end of the longest year

When the pandemic struck last spring, leaving shuttered venues and canceled tours and performances in its wake, it seemed unlikely that there’d be much news to report about music. Nevertheless, musicians persisted, using their creativity to find though new ways to connect to listeners. As you’ve read in our unabated music coverage, many Oregon musicians and institutions regained their balance after the staggering blows of winter and spring, turning to online presentations–including several embedded in this year-end news wrap–to keep the music flowing. Thanks internet! Remember, we paid for it.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


For me, regular video offerings by 45th Parallel, the Oregon Symphony, Portland Baroque Orchestra (and its Great Arts. Period program that gives other music presenters access to its advanced streaming tech) and more initially kept me feeling connected to our homegrown music scene, albeit at a distance. They were soon joined by Third Angle New Music (whose John Luther Adams show last month might have been my favorite music streaming event of the year), Chamber Music Northwest, and others as the year unfolded. Here, you can watch this year’s version of PBO’s annual Messiah, albeit reduced (to singers, string quartet and organ) and distanced like so much else this year.

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$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 

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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.

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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 CMNW.org 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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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.

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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.

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