classical up close

Classical Up Close 9: A wet finale

The company of elite musicians closes its two-week festival of human-scaled outdoors concerts on a high note – and in the rain

Classical Up Close‘s June festival of free outdoor concerts wrapped up in style on Monday with one violin, two violas, one cello, one bass, one clarinet, two horns, one bassoon, three chamber compositions, and several buckets of rain.

The festival had been playing peekaboo with the rainclouds for several days, but had managed to duck all but a few drops. At Monday’s festival finale, at noon along the east bank of the Willamette River in Milwaukie, music and weather finally bumped into each other for real. The clouds burst, and the rain came tumbling fast and furious.

In their element in the elements: Classical Up Close’s performers make music amid the cloudburst in Monday’s final concert in the 14-show outdoor series. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Well, maybe not that fast and furious. “It was a light rain,” violinist Sarah Kwak, the executive director of Classical Up Close and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, said on Tuesday. “The skies didn’t get dark and ominous. It was a summer rain.”

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Classical Up Close 8: Emergency

Pianist Cary Lewis has a "critical heart incident" in mid-concert and is carried away by ambulance to a hospital, where he undergoes emergency surgery

UPDATE: Cary Lewis was diagnosed with an aortic dissection – a tear in the inner layer of the large blood vessel leading to the heart – and underwent emergency open-heart surgery. On Tuesday he was still in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but was also able to sit up in a chair.

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The high-powered trio of violinist Sarah Kwak, violist Vali Phillips, and pianist Cary Lewis on keyboard was deep into the opening piece of Friday afternoon’s 12th concert in Classical Up Close’s June series of 14 free outdoor shows when something went wrong. Lewis, the veteran and highly regarded classical pianist, was in pain.

“I was sitting right next to the stage in case the wind blew Vali’s music off his stand,” Nancy Ives, the principal cellist of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra and a co-founder of Classical Up Close, said the following morning. “I could see that Cary was having problems with his right hand.” She thought it was a flareup from an old climbing injury that sometimes still causes him problems. “And then I heard him say, ‘I can’t even quite lift my right arm’.”

Something was very wrong. “Real life, you know, gets in there,” Ives said. The music stopped. Somebody called an ambulance, which rushed Lewis off to the hospital. Everyone, fellow musicians included, was stunned. “It’s just surreal,” Ives said. “Here you have a friend having a crisis, and you don’t even know. I just know without asking, Cary had that ‘the show must go on’ thing. He is a trouper among troupers.”

Lewis is reported to have had “a critical heart incident” and was taken into emergency open heart surgery. A report on Saturday from a friend of the family said that “it seems that they have been able to manage the situation.”

Pianist Cary Lewis and his wife, cellist Dorothy Lewis. Photo via Facebook. The Lewises were founding members of the Lanier Trio, and Cary has remained in demand as an accompanist for solo performers and as a pianist in chamber groups. He’s been a frequent festival musician across the country. Here’s a review of his 2019 duo concert in Hawaii with Martin Chalifour, principal concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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Classical Up Close 7: Brass & sass

As the festival of free and casual outdoor concerts enters the home stretch, the brasses come out to play and the tango music does an encore

Garage band: Horn player Joe Berger (left), trumpeter Jeffrey Work (center) and tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark in front of garage door. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Classical Up Close’s June series of free, casual, intimate neighborhood concerts in and around Portland entered the home stretch on Wednesday and Thursday with a pair of shows that shifted from trumpets to tango and brass to sass.

Wednesday’s concert, beneath a brooding but ultimately benevolent sky on the driveway of trumpeter Jeffrey Work’s Southwest Portland home, was a brassy sort of thing. It featured Work, principal trumpeter of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; and four fellow members of the orchestra’s brass section: assistant principal trumpeter David Bamonte; associate principal horn player Joe Berger; assistant principal trombonist Robert Taylor; and principal tuba player Ja’Ttik Clark; plus orchestra percussionist (and assistant principal timpanist) Sergio Carreno.

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What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Richard Brown's photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; words of the poets; more

PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 

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Classical Up Close 6: Noble sounds

The festival of free outdoor concerts soars past its halfway point with a pair of shows – and violist Charles Noble's in the middle of the mix

If a songbird were flitting from bush to bush across greater Portland, bent on catching every musical note of this month’s Classical Up Close festival of free outdoor chamber concerts, it would hear and see a lot of Charles Noble. How many of this year’s 14 public concerts is he playing in? On Monday morning – the day after he’d played an afternoon concert in Portland’s Southwest Hills built around Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, and before picking up his viola again for the concert he and his musician wife, Stephanie Noble, were hosting that evening outside their Milwaukie home – he needed to stop to figure it out.

Cellist Nancy Ives and violist Charles Noble, performing Witold Lutoslawski’s Bucolics for viola and cello, outside at Noble’s Milwaukie home on Monday. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Let’s see: Sunday was No. 4; Monday’s show would be No. 5. And then, coming up were shows on June 12 and the finale on the 14th. “Seven,” he concluded – or, half of this summer’s shows. “It’s kinda nuts,” he added. “At some point I guess I thought, ‘I’m busy enough already. I may as well just keep saying ‘yes’.”

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Classical Up Close 5: Bikes & Brass

A pair of adventurous Saturday concerts draws the committed and curious into the sounds of brass in the park and woodwinds in a Beaverton neighborhood

On the southwest edge of Portland’s Mt. Tabor Park, the bikes and brass mingled for a little music on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Joe Cantrell

SATURDAY WAS A DOUBLE-CONCERT DAY in Classical Up Close‘s festival of free outdoor shows across metropolitan Portland, and although the temperature had dropped considerably from the upper 90s of opening day on June 1, it still felt like things were warming up. For audiences and musicians alike, the concerts have had a celebratory feel, a sense of reawakening, like a modern-day Sleeping Beauty yawning and stretching and getting back on her feet after more than a year in a coronavirus slumber. Until Wednesday’s rehearsal, said Oregon Symphony cellist Ken Finch, who hosted Saturday’s evening concert outside his Beaverton home, “I hadn’t seen some of these musicians since March 12 last year,” when Covid-19 restrictions shut down the symphony’s season.

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Classical Up Close 4: High on a hill

From high up in Oregon City, an open-air concert lifts spirits with the sounds of Brahms and Strauss and the young percussion composer Andy Akiho

Violinist Chien Tan: when the movement gets swift, the swift get moving. Photo: Joe Cantrell

“I want to take you higher,” Sly and the Family Stone sang way back in 1969, and on Friday night that’s just what Classical Up Close did, ascending the appropriately named Hilltop Road in Oregon City and, on a wide expanse of open lawn amid swing sets and trees, playing the heart out of some sextets by Brahms and Strauss and a quartet of contemporary percussion pieces by the young composer Andy Akiho, who was also one of the musicians, playing steel pan. It was enough to make you want to lift up your eyes unto the hills – and if you had, you’d’ve seen Mt. Hood looming bright and clear to the east.

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