classical revolution pdx

MusicWatch Weekly: Hello from Bali!

Music editor in Bali, women in wine country, classical jamming in NoPo

It seemed appropriate that practically the first thing we did in Bali—after stopping for bottled water and kretek—was stop into a beautiful restaurant featuring a thirty foot statue of Ganesha, the famous elephant-headed remover of obstacles. Ganesha is traditionally invoked at the beginnings of difficult endeavors, and although none of us post-Christian U.S. Americans were religiously savvy enough to know any traditional prayers and blessings, we still took His presence at our first dinner as a good omen.

Ganesha, remover of obstacles, blesses Semar Kuning Resto near Ubud. Photo by Sean Steward.
Ganesha, remover of obstacles, blesses Semar Kuning Resto near Ubud. Photo by Sean Steward.

Gods and goddesses are everywhere here, along with a wild profusion of temples, statues, offerings of fruit and rice and incense, street dogs, motorbikes, delicious “warung” food carts, and music music music. I’m here with Portland’s only Balinese gamelan, Wahyu Dari Langit (“Revelation from the Skies”), and we’re here to study the traditional percussion-centric music of Indonesia. It’s been almost embarrassing to encounter groups of kids on the street playing drums and gongs with skill and grace we all agree we’ll never achieve.

But we’re still learning, and I’ll tell you all about that as we go along. I’m also still going to tell you about all the stuff I’m missing in Oregon this week and beyond. But first, I have to tell you about the mini-opera we watched shortly after arrival—a deeply entertaining, spiritually fulfilling two-hour spectacle of music and dance centered around a mythical beast known as Barong.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: ringing out, ringing in

Year-ending classical concerts look forward as well as back

Celebrating a new year’s arrival is a perpetual affirmation of hope over experience. So it’s appropriate that some of Oregon’s end of year events represent elements we need more of in classical music: youthful vitality, widespread participation, inclusive American programming, laughter.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert-at-Christmas showcases its entire roster of nearly 300 musicians, plus alumni spanning much of the organization’s 95-year history. Performers from seven to 80 years old, include PYP’s Wind Ensemble, Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, and Alumni Orchestra. They’ll play a fun, affordable, family friendly program featuring Aaron Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday, Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the march from John Williams’s Superman score, and more.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas is Wednesday.

• Classical Revolution PDX’s annual Bachxing Day is, like so much of that essential community organization, insistently inclusive: any local musician, regardless of conservatory cred, is invited to propose a solo or small ensemble performance, as long as it’s — well, I can’t express the philosophy better than the organization itself: “Bachxing day is our Annual Celebration of ALL THINGS BACH. (And puns. See above.) We like J.S., but also expect to hear J.C., C.P.E., P.D.Q. and X.Y.Z – pretty much anything that has “Bach” in the name. All styles of interpretation and instrumentation are up for grabs, including historically inspired performance, molto schmaltzando, and Bach on kazoo.” The culminating number: JSB’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Wednesday, Artichoke Music, 2007 SE Powell Blvd. Portland.

New Year’s Eve

• Florestan Trio has been Portland’s stalwart classical chamber ensemble since Auld Lang Syne (times long past) — more than four decades. The current stellar lineup of pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz has been together for many years and are familiar figures on Oregon classical music stages and PSU classrooms. For this New Year’s Eve concert, Friends of Chamber Music pairs the venerable threesome with another Portland classical music veteran, pianist John Strege (who was music director at Trinity Cathedral for almost as long as the Florestans have been around) and baritone Kevin Walsh in a characteristically delightful divertimento and piano trio by Haydn, John Williams’s famous theme from his score for Schindler’s List, and more, plus dessert and champagne.
Monday, The Old Church, Portland

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

• As usual in recent New Year’s Eves, the Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony, abetted by singers from Portland State University, Oregon Repertory Singers, and Pacific Youth Choir plus vocal soloists. As is unfortunately not usual but is most welcome, the concert also includes orchestral music by 20th century African American composers better known for jazz. Best known as the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson was one of jazz’s 1920s pioneers. But starting in the 1930s, he began writing symphonic music, which was neglected by the racist white classical music establishment of his time. Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop (who now leads the Baltimore Symphony) recorded all of it for the first time in 1994, and the Oregon Symphony will play two of Johnson’s orchestral works: the symphonic poem Drums and the brief Victory Stride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s hip, fun version of Nutcracker ballet music is more than just another orchestral arrangement, featuring jazzy solos, complete reorchestration, swing rhythms, even new titles for the famous dances. It’s a sweet, sly revelation that merits hearing even if you’re surfeited with sugar plum fairies by now — an ideal combo of American and European holiday cheer.
Sunday and Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven, Ellington, and James P. Johnson Sunday and Monday.

•  3 Leg Torso and the Krebsic Orkestar
Portland’s favorite world chamber ensemble, 3 Leg Torso and Alex Krebs’ fiery dozen-member Balkan brass band, the Krebsic Orkestar, host a tangorrific New Years Eve party. You don’t have to know how to tango, but do be ready to dance like no one’s watching. DJ’d dance party follows.
Tango Berretin, Portland

• As 2018 mercifully closes, there’s so much wrong in our country that a significant portion of the music and theater being created today seems to be responding, often with outrage, to depredations perpetrated by our ruling class. A century and a half ago, the British Empire produced a similar share of evils, and artists responded.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: human voices

Choral and vocal concerts take center stage this week in Oregon music

Portland’s big choirs once again present fans of choral music with some difficult choices. As happens too often — there’s a choral calendar that you’d think might help prevent this — several have scheduled shows on the same weekend, making it impossible to see more than a couple of shows, assuming your weekly music budget will stretch even that far. They’re all recommendable, and all feature contemporary as well as classic sounds. I just wish we didn’t have to choose.

Cappella Romana performed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in April.

• Best known for performances of ancient Byzantine music, Cappella Romana goes ultra-modern in Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, and Sunday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 S.E. 41st Ave. The concert features the premiere of a new setting of an ancient Orthodox psalm by six Orthodox composers — including Portland’s own John Boyer, the choir’s new associate music director, who’ll lead the performances. Read more about the new Psalm 103 project, and how the new piece connects to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson, here. I wish more groups originally devoted to being exclusively museums of old music by dead composers would open contemporary wings like this one and apply their historically informed insights to new music.

• That’s exactly what one of Portland’s most promising new musical additions, Big Mouth Society, does in Saturday and Sunday’s Portland premiere of The Gonzales Cantata at Mercy Corps Action Center, 28 SW 1st Ave. When Australian-America composer Melissa Dunphy cooked up her neo-baroque cantata (scored for choir with soloists, string orchestra and harpsichord) back in 2009, she couldn’t have imagined the even more operatic, scandalous senatorial outrage we’ve all just endured. It’s based on the 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which disclosed improprieties that ultimately forced his resignation in disgrace (though somehow didn’t disqualify him from becoming an NPR commentator and law school dean). The senators (including Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch et al) are portrayed by reverse-gendered singers from Curious Voices, and performers include students from Willamette University and Reed College. During performances, Big Mouth Society will host Oregonians United Against Profiling, a coalition opposing Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon’s anti-racial profiling law and allow local law enforcement resources to be diverted to federal action against immigrants.

David DeLyser leads Choral Arts Ensemble.

• In Everlasting Voices, Saturday and Sunday at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, 5830 NE Alameda St., Choral Arts Ensemble celebrates its 50th anniversary season with a retrospective that looks both backward (classical composers like Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Copland) and forward, with some of the 21st century’s hottest young choral composers, including Ēriks Ešenvalds and Jake Runestad.

Gil Seeley at Oregon Repertory Singers concert

• Oregon Repertory Singers opens its 45th season with a new CD and a concert. Shadows on the Stars features one of America’s most-performed composers, Beaverton-born Morten Lauridsen, who splits his time between his teaching duties at the University of Southern California and Waldron Island. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. He returns to accompany the 100-voice choir’s performances of his compositions Sure on this Shining Night and Ya Eres Mía. Accompanist Naomi LaViolette takes the keyboard in Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs, which sets poems by Robert Graves. The second half features another venerated choral master, this one from Estonia. Oregon Repertory Singers was the first American choir to bring Veljo Tormis, who died last year at age 86, to the United States. ORS emeritus conductor Gilbert Seeley returns to lead Tormis’s moving music.

• Portland Symphonic Choir also opens its season this weekend with exciting news: the world premiere of a new spiritual by Portland composer Judy Rose, I’ve Found Me a River. Saturday’s well-rounded concert at Portland’s Tiffany Center also includes Brahms’s Love Song Waltzes and Eric Whitacre’s popular 2001 composition Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine.

Continues…

Cult of Orpheus: lyrical music

Saturday concert offers a five-year retrospective of Portland composer Christopher Corbell's creative reboot

About a decade ago, after his last band finally called it a day, Christopher Corbell, who’d played punk, folk, and other pop music for a couple of decades, faced a turning point. “I finally got to the point that I felt too constrained by the verse-chorus format,” the Portland singer/songwriter/guitarist remembers, “and once that group wound down, I decided I’d had this notion in my head for awhile that I wanted to write an opera.”

In 2015, he did. Corbell’s one-act opera Viva’s Holiday, which set to music a scene from the memoir of famed Portland stripper/author Viva Las Vegas, drew enthusiastic crowds to Old Town’s decidedly non-operatic Star Theater. It was one of many projects emerging from Cult of Orpheus, a production vehicle Corbell created to bring his new, poetically focused music to Portland audiences, which staged its first concert at northeast Portland’s The Waypost club in 2013.

On Saturday, Corbell and various local classical musicians and singers celebrate the Cult’s fifth anniversary with a retrospective concert featuring music from Viva’s Holiday and other poetic songs he’s composed over this five-year stretch.

Christopher Corbell conducts Cult of Orpheus musicians at this summer’s album release concert at Portland’s TaborSpace.

Even while creating non-classical music, “There was never a time I wasn’t doing something with notated music on the side, [like] writing classical guitar pieces,” Corbell remembers, “but it was never my main focus.” Now he wanted to make music in which the words shaped the musical form. “I was really drawn to the lyrical architecture of music that flows out of poetic utterance,” Corbell explains. “I wanted to start with art song as kind of a training ground” before embarking on an opera.

Creative Barriers

But he felt stymied — not by classical music itself but by the apparatus around it. Corbell had studied music in college but, coming from a lower-income background, felt he didn’t fit in what seemed to him the classical establishment’s elitist, hierarchical system. “Classical music has a tendency to still be a white supremacist patriarchal institution,” he says.

Not that classical music is unique in that respect. The music-industrial complex in Nashville, where Corbell spent his adolescence and began performing music, he discovered, had its own hierarchies and gatekeepers that seemed more oriented toward commercial success than non-standardized personal expression or social concerns.

“Studies of social dominance show that every culture that’s ever had an economic surplus has established social dominance groups based on [factors like] gender, race, national origin,” he explains. Those hierarchies, Corbell believes, have produced competitive, cynical social structures that suppress the universal artistic urge to make something beautiful and share it.

“There’s this notion that art is either about selling stuff or a hierarchy of credentials and achievement,” he says. “That’s not why I do art. I do it to grow, to share meaning, to be part of a community.”

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: festival season

Summer festivals bring old and new sounds to Oregon -- including music by Oregon composers

It’s not just the thermometer that’s heating up — summer music festival season is officially underway, bringing with it music by Oregon composers.

Wednesday’s Astoria Music Festival concert at Astoria’s Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center, 588 16th Street, features a dozen works by Cascadia Composers, including David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Paul Safar, Jennifer Wright, ArtsWatch’s own Jeff Winslow and Matthew Andrews, and more. Some of the performers — including Delgani String Quartet, pianist Asya Gulua, singer Catherine Olson and more — are among Oregon’s finest.

Monica Huggett and Adam LaMotte headline Astoria Music Festival’s baroque concert.

Other Astoria shows feature a whole lotta Bach, including Saturday’s highly recommended all-Bach concert featuring Portland Baroque Orchestra violinist and director Monica Huggett, fellow PBO violinist Adam LaMotte, star baroque flutist Janet See, and excellent keyboardist Janet Coleman on harpsichord. Chopin Competition gold medalist Ilya Kazantsev and award winning cellist Sergey Antonov play more Bach Saturday, with live painting by Astoria’s own Darren Orange. Antonov and pianist Cary Lewis perform Bach’s viola da gamba and harpsichord sonatas on equal tempered cello and piano Tuesday. Kazantsev plays a Rachmaninoff recital Thursday, and joins other festival stars in Shostakovich and Schubert Friday. Puccini’s classic opera Tosca Sunday afternoon at lovely Liberty Theatre features several Met soloists including Richard Keller and Angela Brown.

The other major highly recommended, locally sourced concert this week is Saturday night’s Cult of Orpheus album release at southeast Portland’s TaborSpace. The new album from one of Oregon’s most distinctive musical voices, Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s splendid new Sacred Works I: The Emerald Tablet touches on subjects from Sufi song cycle to medieval mystery cults and more. Check out some tracks at the Cult’s YouTube channel.

Resonance Ensemble brings to a close a fascinating season that squarely and obliquely addressed some of today’s most pressing issues with “BODIES” Sunday afternoon at northeast Portland’s Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. An official event of Pride Northwest, the program includes selections from a major recent work Considering Matthew Shepard, by Craig Hella Johnson, who directs the superb Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare. Other highlights include music from Dominick DiOrio’s The Visible World, a composition about marriage equality from diverse historical perspectives and from composer Laura Kaminsky’s As One. Along with the top-notch Resonance regulars, guests include erstwhile Portlander Stephen Marc Beaudoin back on a visit to sing pieces by gay composers, pianist David Saffert, and Resonance poet in residence S. Renee Mitchell performing an original work written for this show.

Astoria isn’t the only coastal musical extravaganza. Siletz Bay Music Festival tees off at Lincoln City Cultural Center with a Wednesday recital featuring violinist Asi Matathias and pianist Victor Stanislavsky in sonatas by Grieg, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens and more. Tuesday’s show offers Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata and Oregon Symphony concertmaster Sarah Kwak with pianist Mei-Ting Sun in Cesar Franck’s ever-popular Violin Sonata. Sun returns for Friday’s all-Beethoven piano recital and Sunday’s chamber music concert featuring 20th century sounds by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Francis Poulenc’s sparkling Clarinet Sonata featuring the great jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski. Kwak then joins the fun for Schumann’s famous Piano Quintet.

Continues…

Music News & Notes

Recent happenings in Oregon music

Been awhile since we rounded up recent news in Oregon classical music, so here’s some items that lit up our screens in recent months.

Laurels and Plaudits

• Composition Champ. University of Oregon composition professor Robert Kyr was one of four American composers to win this year’s American Academy of Arts and Letters $10,000 Arts and Letters Award for outstanding artistic achievement by a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice.

Mia Hall Miller

Mia Hall Miller

Wonder Woman. Pacific Youth Choir founder and director Mia Hall Miller received the Oregon Symphony’s 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award, a $10,000 prize that “honors an individual or organization that directly works to build community through the next generation of artists and/or student musicians.” Now in its 13th year, PYC boasts almost 300 singers in 10 choirs.

Violin Virtuosa. Portland violinist Fumika Mizuno is the only Oregonian selected among the 109 young musicians (age 16-19) from across the country for the fourth annual National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. It’s her second stint with the NYO, which (after a training residency in New York) performed with the great pianist Emanuel Ax at Carnegie Hall in July, then played concerts led by Valery Gergiev at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, in Montpellier France, Copenhagen, and Prague.

• Operatic ascent. Portland tenor A.J. Glueckert was one of six winners of the $10,000 George London awards, one of America’s oldest vocal competitions.

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams. 

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams.

Trumpeter on the rise. Eugene jazz trumpeter and composer Tony Glausi has been named the recipient of the 2016-17 Laurie Frink Career Grant, a biennial $10,000 award to give a “young brass player an opportunity for serious study or to undertake a creative project.” One of America’s most revered brass instrument teachers, Frink, who died in 2013, played in some of the finest jazz orchestras (including those of Maria Schneider, Benny Goodman Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue and more), performed with Broadway orchestras, co-wrote the definitive book on trumpet improvisation, and mentored some of today’s top trumpeters including Dave Douglas and Ambrose Akinmusire. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch profile of Glausi.

The Marylhurst Chamber Choir performs at the 2016 Cork International Choral Festival.

Choral Voyagers. Marylhurst University’s premiere choral ensemble, the Marylhurst Chamber Choir, was one of only 34 choirs from around the world, and the only American choir invited to perform at the Cork International Choir Festival in Cork, Ireland in May. It placed third to choirs from Sweden and Turkey in a close contest for the placed third in the festival’s top honor, the Fleischmann Award and won the Peace Award for the choir that best embodied the spirit of the festival.

Continues…

‘Viva’s Holiday’: Making an opera, evoking a community

Made in Portland opera embraces much of the city's indie classical scene, and more.

“Thank you for supporting the arts,” the stripper said.

Back in the late 1990s, Astoria-based singer/songwriter Christopher Corbell made his first visit to a Portland strip club. A friend was visiting from New Orleans, where Corbell used to live before moving to Oregon, so the two visited an establishment in the city’s then-seedy Old Town. “I expected a sordid experience,” he recalls. Then one dancer emerged, with a winking act that was smart, tongue in cheek, “really engaging with everyone,” he says. “It was totally different than the experience I expected.” At the end of her act she said, “Thank you for supporting the arts.”

Years later, reading 2009’s Magic Gardens: the Memoirs of Viva Las Vegas, Corbell encountered that same line, and realized that he’d actually experienced Portland’s own Viva, a Willamette Week writer, Williams College grad, preacher’s daughter and author who insisted that stripping could be a feminist, artistic, empowering, and even intellectual experience.

It wasn’t just Viva who left a lasting impression on Corbell. She was part of “an artistic underground that seems to be threatened by gentrification,” he wrote. “Local musicians, artists, writers, and others who recall the cheap rents, shows, and drinks of the ’90s at clubs like Satyricon and La Luna generally knew Viva, both from her time on stage (in rock clubs as well as strip clubs) and from her writing and activism. As old-school bar after bar has closed and rents have climbed rapidly, it is an apt time to look at — and bolster — some of the worldview that made this recent era of the Portland scene magical. Viva has always been a vocal proponent of that outlook; it pervades her Magic Gardens memoirs.”

Later, after he’d moved into composing music in classical idioms (he also became executive director of Portland’s Classical Revolution PDX), Corbell was searching for ideas for his first opera, and remembered the book and its author. He knew he wanted to write a local story, with local heroes, and celebrate the scruffier 1980s-mid 1990s city before it added the -ia suffix. Who better to represent pre-glitz Portland’s simultaneously smart and seedy sides than Viva Las Vegas herself?

“It’s a local legend story,” Corbell explains. “I’m using traditional opera vocabulary, its passions and emotions, to depict someone we know in our community.” Viva certainly makes a better local hero than, say, Tonya Harding.

Soprano Helen Funston as Viva, bass­baritone Bobby Jackson as Dad, mezzo­soprano Sadie Gregg as Mom, and tenor Alexander Trull as Brother in "Viva's Holiday."

Soprano Helen Funston as Viva, bass ­baritone Bobby Jackson as Dad, mezzo­ soprano Sadie Gregg as Mom, and tenor Matt Storm as Brother in “Viva’s Holiday.” Photo: Jessica Beer.

But Corbell’s one act chamber opera, Viva’s Holiday, which runs Wednesday through Friday, December 2-4 at Portland’s Star Theater, just a few blocks from where Corbell and Viva first met, is more than a celebration of a Portland cultural icon. And Viva isn’t the only Portland figure to collaborate with Corbell on his new opera. As it began to take shape over the last couple of years, the project drew collaborators from across the city, including various strains of its burgeoning indie classical community. Even though it’s not set in Portland, Viva’s Holiday is truly a project that grew directly from the city’s culture. It’s also potentially a new model for making homegrown classical music. In creating it, Corbell wasn’t just composing music, but also a community.

Continues…