classical revolution


Coco Cobra sings Mozart at Classical Revolution's Summer Showcase. Photo: Gene Newell.

Coco Cobra sings Mozart at Classical Revolution’s Summer Showcase. Photo: Gene Newell.

The crowd whooped and hollered as a punk rocker named Coco Cobra, barely attired in fishnet stockings, platform boots, and black leather jacket belting out the Queen of the Night’s famous aria from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute,” accompanied by a motley orchestra of various strings and electric guitar, the latter wielded by a Mozart-bewigged and beshaded- axman who turned out to be the leader of one of Oregon’s most important classical music institutions.

That was the climactic scene at the summer showcase concert that culminated Classical Revolution’s second annual national conference. It certainly showed off the plucky movement’s irreverent yet respectful (the slinky Ms. Cobra, actually a member of the female classical vocal trio Bergerette, nailed the famously difficult aria) approach to classical music, as did the fact that it happened in a rock/cabaret club instead of a traditional classical concert hall.

But what went on behind the scenes at the conference itself might have been more significant. About nine other directors from other Classical Revolution chapters met to exchange ideas and plan the revolution’s next phase. They shared success stories and concert models, fundraising strategies and outreach endeavors and more. CRPDX board member Michael Hsu, a composer and violinist, and executive director Christopher Corbell, a composer and multi-instrumentalist (as well as occasional electric-guitar thrashing Mozart impersonator) told ArtsWatch what they saw at the revolution.


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.


Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra made beautiful music together in 2012.

Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra made beautiful music together in 2012.

The pause in performances at the outset of the new year offers a chance to take a deep breath and try to draw some conclusions from the flurry of events that filled Oregon’s — and particularly Portland’s — classical music scene in 2012. Usually, we’re too busy here just trying to tell our readers what’s about to happen or what just happened. So rather than presenting only the usual “here’s what I saw — again” recap, I’ll offer a quick overview, and then say a bit more about what it means. Naturally, I could attend only a fraction of the many worthy performances around even Portland, much less the rest of the state, so this take is far from comprehensive or definitive. And apologies in advance for the worthy work I did see and unintentionally left out– when you attend several concerts per week over the course of a year, it’s easy to let a few slip the memory banks. Moreover, it excludes much worthwhile nonclassical music I heard last year, from taiko and Indian music to jazz, rock and much more.

First, though, we have to note some of the comings and goings in the Oregon classical scene: departures in leadership at the Portland Columbia Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest, and other institutions, and arrivals at the Oregon Mozart Players, Choral Arts Ensemble, Eugene Symphony, Portland Opera and more. Sadly, the music suffered some serious losses — we salute the memory of Anne Dhu McLucas, Obo Addy, Franya Berkman, and others. Classical music is, or should be, ever-renewing.

Peak Performances

The quality of orchestral performances I saw continued to rise, led by the Oregon Symphony, which just seems to get better and better, not only from year to year, but often even from concert to concert. As I noted last spring, and will again soon, I still think the programming caters to too narrow an audience, but last year’s programs boasted a number of relatively fresh gems — from a brilliant little piece called “Drip”  by a young American composer Andrew Norman to newish works by Thomas Ades, Sofia Gubaidulina, John Adams and others — and always able, often superb performances of museum music. I hope the orchestra can continue raising its performance standards under whoever replaces the departed executive director Elaine Calder, but it’s already made such enormous strides in that regard that it now can afford to also look to other areas of improvement — community outreach, contemporary programming, etc. Last season’s concluding concert featuring John Adams’s “City Noir” and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was one of the city’s top classical music events of the 21st century.


Violinist Martin Chalifour and cellist Sergey Antonov perform Saturday at the Astoria Music Festival.

The big summer music festivals begin this month, and several performances in the past couple weeks offered enticing previews of things to come. If last night’s preview performance at Portland’s Old Church is any indication, this year’s Astoria Music Festival will make the drive to the north coast even more appealing than it already is. The two major instrumental soloists, violinist Martin Chalifour (the Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster who also maintains a solo career that’s brought him to Oregon several times in recent years) and cellist Sergey Antonov proved worthy of their stellar reputations.


Resonance Ensemble sang French music at Lewis & Clark College

The inmates haven’t exactly taken over the asylum yet, but the insurgent musicians of Classical Revolution PDX have suddenly become a prized local institution right before our eyes. They were hardly the first to play classical music in Portland rock clubs and coffeehouses, but CRPDX has certainly contributed mightily to the spread of classical music beyond traditional concert halls and made the music more accessible to Portland audiences and musicians. The movement celebrates its fifth anniversary Saturday at the site of its original eruption, the Waypost, and features guest artist Lara Downes, the San Francisco Bay area based pianist who starred at last summer’s Portland International Piano Festival, performing a baker’s dozen of new compositions she commissioned from contemporary composers inspired by J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Along with music by Portland composer Tomas Svoboda, Maurice Ravel, Rebecca Clarke and more, the celebration includes a costume competition and dance party featuring fellow travelers in the Electric Opera Company, who play classical music on rock instruments.


Taylor emcees OTO's first show, "Will Kill for Vaudeville" at Someday Lounge (2007)

In a blow to the city’s music scene, one of Portland’s artistic visionaries, Katie Taylor, has stepped down as Opera Theater Oregon’s artistic director.

“After five years on the pony – the zesty, prancing pony that is OTO — I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down. I was going to invent a sex scandal (not involving ponies) to explain my departure, but then I remembered that this is Portland, and no one would be likely to care, even if ponies were involved,” Taylor wrote on the innovative company’s website. “So…I’ll just say straight out that it’s been an amazing ride, and I feel lucky to have met and worked with so many amazing people, but it’s time for me to say goodbye.”

Taking the Tarnhelm (redubbed the Tan-helm in OTO’s Baywatch-style version of Wagner’s The Rheingold) at OTO will be the alternative opera company’s musical director, Erica Melton, and film division director Jen Wechsler.

The company will throw a farewell party for Taylor at one of OTO’s original venues, Someday Lounge, on June July 24, which will include a short film and “opera karaoke.”

During her half-decade at the helm, OTO distinguished itself as one of Portland’s most creative performing arts companies, with ambitions inversely proportional to its budgets. A bastion of the city’s burgeoning alt-classical scene, the company used humor, pop culture references, a fun, informal atmosphere, and especially beer (at venues such as Someday Lounge, Alberta Rose Theater and Clinton Street Theater) to lure enthusiastic younger audiences to modern, sometimes wacky productions of classic operas, including producing a Portland-centric version of John Gay’s play The Beggar’s Opera (also the inspiration for Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera).

Taylor directed a spooky, Twilight Zonish version of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium at Someday and co-commissioned a new score for Filmusik’s Hercules vs. Vampires. Although they winked at some of opera’s stuffy pretensions, OTO’s productions always took the music itself seriously in the quest to “make opera safe for America.”

OTO has also been celebrated for partnering with other alt-classical outfits, including Electric Opera Company, Filmusik, and Classical Revolution. Taylor and Dark Horse comic artist Dan Schaefer (Batman, Spiderman, et al.), created a “singing comic book” for this year’s production of Massenet’s Werther called Out of Eden.

Taylor’s departure comes just weeks after she shepherded the organization to a stable  home at McMenamin’s Mission Theater. That somewhat eased the sting of Taylor’s heroic, close-but-no-candy-cigar efforts to obtain downtown’s Guild Theater as a home and performance venue for several of the city’s other alternative classical organizations.

All that work apparently came at a price, however. The company is run by volunteers, and Taylor has had to pick up work to recover her finances.

“Running the organization left me with little time for the actual writing that was the most important part of the work for me,” Taylor says. “I will miss it very much, but it was definitely time to move on. I’m also excited to see where Erica and Jen take OTO.” She told OAW she’s “working on a cross-genre book of short stories whose protagonists all have psoriasis and a sci fi novel about a new weight loss gimmick with hideously complicated side effects, raising the question of how much of who we are is our bodies and how much is our minds.”

Let’s hope we’ll see more of Taylor’s prodigious talent, inclusive attitude, and artistic ambition on Portland stages soon. And let’s hope OTO thrives without her leadership.