city of tomorrow

MusicWatch Weekly: choral confluence

Chanticleer, Cappella Romana and St. Olaf Choir headline the week in Oregon music

Vibrant voices lead this week’s Oregon music calendar, beginning with one of America’s oldest and most revered choral ensembles, St. Olaf Choir’s performance Thursday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church and Saturday afternoon at North Medford High School.

Anton Armstrong leads St. Olaf Choir’s 2018 tour. Photo: Flight Creative Media.

Led for 28 years by Anton Armstrong, familiar to Oregon audiences through his long tenure leading youth choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival, this year’s group sports several members from Oregon and is performing music by Portland born, Salem-based composer/educator (and St. Olaf alum) Stanford Scriven, as well as a J.S. Bach arrangement by Seattle’s John Muelheisen and Sure On This Shining Night by Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen. The program contains mostly compositions by 20th and 21st century  composers including Eric Whitacre, Robert Scholz, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, Moses Hogan, Jean Berger, Carolyn Jennings, Ralph Manuel, David Conte, choir founder F. Melius Christiansen, plus the  Sanctus from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and a selection from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criola.

Choral glory continues with Chanticleer’s performances Friday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall as part of the San Francisco ensemble’s 40th anniversary tour. This year’s program, “Heart of a Soldier,” includes songs from across the ages on the sadly perennial subject of human conflict and its consequences by Renaissance European composers William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Clement Janequin, and Guillaume Dufay through some of the finest contemporary American composers including Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates.

Friends of Chamber Music often brings Chanticleer to Portland.

Another superb vocal ensemble, Portland’s world-renowned Cappella Romana, brings over the great French conductor Marcel Peres (who helped rescue early music from dry, scholarly performances) to lead one of the great Renaissance masterpieces, Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass of Notre Dame Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sunday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church.

Pérès’s Ensemble Organum’s 1996 recording of the masterpiece by the the greatest composer/poet of the 14th century used Corsican singers versed in traditional embellishments that might resemble medieval vocal practices. Their intentionally earthier vocal textures and Peres’s emphasis on lower voices produced as much controversy as early music ever experiences — decried by devotees of later choral music’s restrained, pristine Anglican choirboy sound (which most previous recordings adopted), praised by those (like me) who cherished its folkier, emotionally expressive power. His approach should make an excellent match for Cappella’s singers (particularly its magnificent basses), themselves experienced in medieval Mediterranean vocal traditions.

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Oregon music on record 2015: Contemporary classical

21st century sounds from Oregon composers and musicians

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time, and this one covers mostly contemporary music from Oregon composers. And don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 20122013, and 2014, or our previous entry focusing on Oregon early music ensembles.

David Schiff CD Cover ImageDavid Schiff: Chamber Music Northwest Premieres (2000-2014)
“All of my music is a form of autobiography,” writes Portland composer David Schiff in the liner notes to this new compilation. Judging by this two-disk survey compiling festival performances of five of his most recent compositions, the 70 year old composer has led a pretty fascinating musical life, and this important set chronicles the latest stretch.

The release is a product of one of Oregon’s most fruitful creative collaborations: the three-decade long partnership between Chamber Music Northwest and Schiff. Almost alone among major Oregon music institutions, CMNW has invested in its hometown’s creative potential through its frequent commissions of new music from the Reed College prof. The result is a body of chamber music that stands with any other American composer’s of the period.

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Concert reviews: The City of Tomorrow, The Mousai, Cascadia Composers

The music is there, now for some audience regard

The Mousai performed in Portland's Celebration Works series.

The Mousai performed in Portland’s Celebration Works series. Photo: Earl Temp.

This spring has brought a bevy of performances that demonstrate why Portland has recently developed one of the country’s most fertile and promising contemporary classical music scenes, thanks largely to forward-looking composers, musicians and presenters who refuse to succumb to the simplistic old notion that music can’t be both broadly appealing and boldly adventurous.

Yet as promising and often intoxicating as much of the music was, none of the shows proved entirely satisfying, for a variety of reasons, each unrelated to the music itself. These shows also demonstrated that playing fresh, local music — and often playing it well — isn’t enough. Too many non-musical considerations (choice of venue, programming and sequencing of repertoire, inadequate rehearsal, etc.) impeded full enjoyment of the music the players were working so hard to create. Taken together, they offer urgent lessons for performers and presenters. But you’ll have to wait for those, because, Gaulingly, we’re going to break this seasonal survey in three.

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City of Tomorrow wind quintet performs in Portland Saturday.

City of Tomorrow wind quintet performs in Portland Saturday.

This weekend’s concerts feature several small ensembles that specialize in contemporary sounds, plenty of Baroque rarities and favorites, and much more.

eighth blackbird, Friday, Music Recital Hall, Southern Oregon University, and Sunday, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon. One of the world’s finest contemporary chamber ensembles performs the haunting Murder Ballades by Bryce Dessner  (the guitarist in The National who also enjoys a burgeoning career as a contemporary classical composer, including an album last year with Kronos Quartet); the ethereal Duet for Heart and Breath by Read Parry (who plays in the Arcade Fire); selections from Slide, a theater work whose music (by another rock/classical composer, Steven Mackey), impressed me when I covered its 2009 premiere in California; another piece whose subject is losing grip on reality, Australian composer Brett Dean’s Old Kings in Exile; a flute and piano arrangement of the great 20th century composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s celebrated piano etudes, and more.

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Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic's Young Composers Project

Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project

If you’d been reading ArtsWatch’s Facebook page over the past week or two, you’d have noticed early reports about awards for Helmuth Rilling, international journeys for the PSU chamber choir and UO chamber choir, Portland Piano international’s new schedule and much more. ArtsWatch regularly breaks news about the burgeoning Oregon arts scene on Facebook. We also occasionally round up shorter tidbits in these News &Notes dispatches. Here’s some items about arrivals and departures in Oregon music. And stay tuned – we have more news coming soon about another impending big move in Oregon classical music.

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