Colin Currie

ArtsWatch Weekly: past imperfect, present tense

In the Northwest, images of horror and hope from the past and present. Plus a West Side story, a flamenco flourish, and a divine voice.

ARTSWATCH IS ABOUT ARTS AND CULTURE IN OREGON: It’s embedded in our name. But culture is a fluid thing, coming at us from all corners of the world, and, through our libraries and museums and musical notations, from the enduring fragments of previous times and places. It comes to us. We go to it. Everything mingles in the process. One of our number is on the nothern tip of the Olympic Peninsula right now, a ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, where depending on the weather she might be greeted on the shoreline by a bagpiper in a kilt (although the Unipiper remains a resolutely Portlandian attraction, rain or shine, sleet or snow). Another ArtsWatcher is working her way across Andalucia, taking hundreds of pictures as she goes. Our music editor is settling back into the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest after a sojourn in Bali with some masters of the gamelan.  

Parmigianino, Antea, ca. 1535, oil on canvas, 53.7 x 33.8 inches, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.

On occasion we indulge in a quick trip north to Seattle, and in case you do the same, you might want to drop in on the Seattle Art Museum, where the exhibition Flesh & Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum opens today and hangs around through January 26. It time-travels through Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and includes 39 paintings and a single sculpture from the collections of the Naples museum.


A Baroque groove master at work

A conversation with composer Andy Akiho and percussionist Colin Currie, featured on this weekend's Oregon Symphony concerts

Composer-percussionist Andy Akiho gestured across the room to a table in the corner of the Heathman Hotel’s cozy library. “I composed most of it right there,” he said. “They let me stay here until three in the morning sometimes.”

Akiho is speaking of his Percussion Concerto, which Colin Currie and the Oregon Symphony will premiere this weekend alongside two of Akiho’s heroes, Igor Stravinsky and Charles Ives. Currie himself joined us, and both spoke fondly of Portland, where Akiho now spends half the year. Currie told me the first time he landed at PDX airport, he was immediately reminded of his native Scotland. “Then it rained all week,” Currie said, “and I thought, ah this is bliss!”

The percussionists maintain busy schedules. Currie will be conducting Steve Reich’s tribute to painter Gerhard Richter, Reich/Richter, and is excited about Scottish composer Helen Grime’s Percussion Concerto–very different from Akiho’s–which Currie commissioned and will be performing several times this year. Meanwhile, Akiho has been finalizing the recording of his LIgNEouS Suite for marimba and strings, is currently finishing an album with his band Miyamoto is Black Enough, and somehow also finds time to work on an eleven-movement quartet for Ian Rosenbaum’s Sandbox Percussion.

This weekend, though, it’s all about the long-awaited concerto: Akiho’s first major orchestral work (2015’s Ping Pong Concerto notwithstanding) is full of ceramic bowls, a meaty marimba, and all the rhythmic complexity and melodic verve we’ve come to expect from one of our favorite young composers. The Oregon Symphony performs at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Arts Watch recently spoke in person with Akiho and Currie; their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

Inception, inspiration, orchestration

Andy Akiho: I’m obviously inspired by the city, because I wrote almost all of it here. There’s no story or anything, that’s why it’s just called Percussion Concerto for now—until Colin comes up with a story, then we’ll change the title.


MusicWatch Monthly: Hot music in the cold city

Warm up your fall with saxophones, film and classical music, international virtuosi, and metallized Metroids

Are you cold yet? Have your fingers and toes and hearts and guts frozen as Winter creeps closer and you face down the end of the world? Are you ready to put on a sweater and a balaclava and drown out the chaos with frosty music and a fire in the belly?

Good! Here’s your prescription for October.


Now that you’re all sweatered up, it’s time for some hot sax. Tuesday, October 2nd–tonight!–it’s the zany trio Too Many Zooz at Crystal Ballroom, wherein baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Doe, and drummer David “King of Sludge” play their stompy dancey “brass house” music. If that’s not zany enough for you, wait until tomorrow and check out skronky Skerik at Goodfoot Lounge on the 3rd. Then, at 4 in the afternoon on the 5th, head over to the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s tribute to Portland’s Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper. Or wait all the way until next week and dig local diy jazz quintet Blue Cranes at The 1905 on Sunday the 13th.

Oregon Symphony Orchestra

After a cancelled zoo concert and a weekend of Empire, the OSO’s symphonic season is officially underway. We heard from composer Oscar Bettison last week, and you’ll hear all about his rewilded music (performed last weekend alongside Mozart and Brahms) from Charles Rose soon enough. This month, the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi continues into full fall mode with concerts of music all over the “classical” map, from film music to Stravinsky to Coldfuckingplay.


MusicWatch Weekly: black voices matter

Major works for voice by contemporary African American composers highlight this week's Oregon music

One of the top tenors of his generation, Philadelphia’s Lawrence Brownlee has drawn rapturous acclaim for his performances at all the world’s great opera houses, from the Met and La Scala on down, especially in the agile roles of early 19th composers. He’s also performed with some of the world’s finest orchestras. But he’s also forged a separate career performing smaller scale works, from African American spirituals to art song, and that’s the focus of this recital with pianist Myra Huang that includes a major new composition, Cycles of My Being by one of today’s most renowned new music voices, Tyshawn Sorey, with text by poet Terrance Hayes. He’ll also sing Schumann’s iconic song cycle The Poet’s Love. Read Damien Geter’s ArtsWatch preview, which includes an interview with Brownlee.

Another leading contemporary African American composer, William Averitt, is coming to Eugene from Virginia to introduce his shimmering setting of Langston Hughes poems, The Dream Keeper, which Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble performs Friday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. Some address the dream of overcoming racial injustice, which the great Harlem Renaissance poet would probably be appalled but maybe not surprised to discover persists today. “Bring me all of your dreams,” Hughes writes. “Bring me all of your Heart melodies, That I may wrap them in a blue cloudcloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.”

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb for the first half of their spring concert.

The concert also includes R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” and one of choral music rock star Eric Whitacre’s greatest hits: the inventive, dramatic Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, which draws on devices from madrigals to minimalism. EVA singers don their annual Renaissance garb to sing music for the birds, featuring madrigals and other songs that use avian imagery, including the great French composer Clément Janequin’s “The Song of the Birds” and other soaring compositions by Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Weelkes and other English composers, plus more Renaissance masters like Arcadelt and Banchieri.

Percussionist Colin Currie performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

More choral music graces the Oregon Symphony’s weekend concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, featuring a rare complete performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe augmented by the international award winning Portland State Chamber Choir, Man Choir, and Vox Femina. Although it was eclipsed a bit amid all the uproar attending the next big ballet that opened at its premiere venue, little thing called Rite of Spring, Ravel’s epic, magical 1912 ballet score is one of the 20th century’s finest. Alas, the world premiere of a new Percussion Concerto commissioned from one of today’s hottest young composers, Andy Akiho, was postponed, but the orchestra’s artist in residence, scintillating Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, will instead perform American composer John Corigliano’s colorful three-movement 2007 percussion concerto Conjurer, written for another great Scottish percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.

Chamber Music

Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, about this time last year, the orchestra performed aquatic music by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, and his music is back in Oregon Tuesday the Faure Piano Quartet’s Tuesday concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. The Friends of Chamber Music concerts also include quartets by Brahms and Mahler on Monday, and a quartet by Schumann as well as Hosokawa’s marvelously mysterious The Waters of Lethe (which like Daphnis grew out of an ancient Greek myth) on Tuesday. They’ll play quartets by their namesake, the wonderful 19th century French composer, both nights.

Spring is barely here, but we can look forward to the real sunny season at Chamber Music Amici’s Monday concert at Springfield’s Wildish Community Theater, which features the sunny Summer Trio by Oregon’s most venerated living composer, Portland legend Tomas Svoboda. The current and former University of Oregon music faculty members also play the lovely Piano and Winds Quintet that Mozart himself regarded as one of his finest creations — plus a characteristically sparkling piano trio by the fab 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc.


Unlike the closing work in the Oregon Symphony’s October 22-4 concerts, Richard Strauss’s 1898 tone poem Ein HeldenlebenAndrew Norman’s 2015 percussion concerto, Switch is not explicitly a hero’s journey. But, invoking videogames as it does, one can’t help but sense a quest theme for these concerts. After all, the great videogame protagonists were all on some sort of heroic quest or another. Mario and Luigi, Link and Zelda, Samus Aran, Lara Croft — to name only a few — go through most of the phases outlined by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his legendary Hero With a Thousand FacesI suppose we could compare the start menu with the call to adventure. Norman’s concerto follows the same basic pattern, sending the percussionist on a journey across the stage through several distinct phases of challenges and obstacles.

Soloist Colin Currie, for whom the concerto was composed, described his experience playing the piece as feeling like the pinball in an arcade game, ricocheting around the stage between three different arrays of percussion instruments. In the composer’s words: “The soloist, dropped into this complex contraction of causes and effects like the unwitting protagonist of a videogame, must figure out the rules of this universe on the fly, all while trying to avoid the rewind-inducing missteps that prevent progress from one side of the stage to the other.”

Percussionist Colin Currie performed with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

Percussionist Colin Currie performed with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

The orchestra started alone, sounding the call to adventure, and after a few minutes the percussionist rushed in from stage left to play quick figures across the first, gigantic percussion array, delivering complex syncopated runs on a set of huge almglocken (tuned cowbells), congas and bongos, concert toms, temple blocks, and tin cans before climaxing on the snare drum and cymbals. Currie handled his entrance marvelously, dashing in breathlessly over waves of whistles and cheers. A jolly impish grin on his face, he hopped through the opening gestures with nimble flair, checking in furtively with his music and conductor Carlos Kalmar while scurrying from one section of the array to another.

Composer Andrew Norman

Composer Andrew Norman wrote ‘Switch.’

Once the piece got rolling, the title’s meaning became clear. Certain gestures in the percussion parts — woodblock strokes and cymbal chokes for Currie, slapsticks and log drums for the orchestral percussionists stationed around the orchestra — switched on and off the different layers of music (what Norman calls “channels”) throughout the orchestra. The effect was quite striking, if I may be excused the pun. Screeching violins and howling trombones would start up a wailing cacophony quite out of nowhere, and then stop just as suddenly, exactly as if a switch were being thrown or a button being pressed.

This back-and-forth progressed towards a climax, at which point Currie was suddenly sent back to the beginning, tumbling back down to the far end of the percussion array to restart the opening gestures on the almglocken, congas, and tin cans. Each time he returned, he did a little better—and moved through the passages faster and faster. Every successful completion of the opening passages would bring him to new musical material. It was just like “dying” in a videogame and having to start all over, rushing through familiar early levels to get to the next area.


Colin Currie: A passion for percussion

Scottish percussion star begins residency with Oregon Symphony this week


There must be something in the Scottish water that made the tiny country produce the two most prominent percussionists of the era: Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie. Still under 40, the Edinburgh-born musician begins his three-year tenure as artist in residence with the Oregon Symphony with this week’s round of outreach activities, culminating in three performances with the orchestra in which he’s featured soloist in fellow Scots composer James MacMillan’s 1992 masterpiece, Veni Veni Emmanuel, which Glennie originally recorded. (Currie has recorded it twice since and played it around 150 times around the world, including with Marin Alsop leading the Eugene Symphony in 2003.) MacMillan’s colorful 25 minute percussion concerto grew out of the composer’s Catholic faith, “a musical exploration of the theology behind the Advent message” and ends with an Easter hymn tune. It’s a big, dramatic piece whose theatricality is enhanced in live performance by the percussion soloist racing from vibraphone to woodblocks to marimba to drum set.

Colin Currie shows his Oregon spirit. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Colin Currie shows his Oregon spirit. Photo: Marco Borggreve.

Currie’s performances with the OSO culminate a series of appearances around town, from solo and kid’s concerts at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center to a performance with Grimm actors at the Cleaners at the Ace hotel, to a Saturday performance with the symphony’s percussion section at the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU and a solo marimba set at the hip Coava Coffee/Bamboo Revolution. He’ll also work with students from PSU and David Douglas High School and play St. Mary’s Home for Boys. Currie finds percussion to be an excellent gateway drug to music for the kids he’ll be working with at various schools. “Children and adults find percussion enticing “because it’s something people can pick up easily,” he told me. “If you try to play a French horn, you can’t get a sound out of it, but you can pick up a drum and very quickly get a sound as good as anyone can.”


ArtsWatch Weekly: Savory Schiff. Cookin’ at TBA. Percussion Currie.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Portland’s been celebrating its adopted musical son David Schiff with an ongoing series of concerts that began last year with a concert by Third Angle New Music Ensemble and included an all-Schiff concert by Fear No Music just a couple of days ago at Reed College, where Schiff has taught and composed and written terrific essays and books about music since he came to town 35 years ago.

Schiff conducts the Reed College orchestra.

Schiff conducts the Reed College orchestra.

The extended birthday party (Schiff recently turned a vigorous 70) continues with a November performance of his Infernal, after Stravinsky’s Firebird suite, by the Oregon Symphony; and also in November, a jazz-star performance of his arrangement of music by Duke Ellington and Bily Strayhorn, also at Reed.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell has written a fascinating profile of Schiff that I hope you’ll take time to read. He traces Schiff’s unlikely journey from a resolutely New York Jewish family to what seemed the frontier town of Portland, and the brilliant collision of musical and cultural forces that have made Schiff’s voice so distinctly American: klezmer and other Jewish music; Broadway show tunes; jazz; and classical influences ranging from Stravinsky and Copland to Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and his own teachers, including Elliott Carter and John Corigliano. And Portland, Schiff tells Campbell, fitted his eclecticism well: “It was much easier to be myself here than in New York, where the politics were tricky and I would have to choose sides somehow.”


Klinton Haliday performing at Hillsboro's Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Art Center.

Klinton Haliday performing at Hillsboro’s Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Art Center.

TRADITION HERE AND NOW. In her newest weekend dance feature, Jamuna Chiarini profiles Bharatanatyam classical Indian dancers Klinton Haliday and Dhruv Singh, frequent figures in Portland dance concerts. Singh comments on the attractions of Bharatanatyam: “the combination of rhythmic madness and complete freedom of expression portrayed through technique and body language – expressions ranging  from simple happiness, bliss, sadness, anger, violence, to more complex ones such as turmoil, peace, surrender, and confusion.”


Radhouane El Meddeb: the art of cooking. Photo: Carollina Lucchesini

Radhouane El Meddeb: the art of cooking. Photo: Carollina Lucchesini

IN THE WORLD OF NEW, YESTERDAY IS THE BEGINNING OF OLD. Contemporary cultural isn’t quite sure what to do with the whole idea of newness. New music groups sometimes play the work of adventurous but now dead composers from the early or mid-twentieth century, alongside genuinely new work by young twenty-first century composers. On the other hand, “modern art,” once the latest and most provocative thing, now refers to a specific historical period, and “contemporary art” is bound to disappear down the same narrow avenue of history, to be replaced by … what? Post-contemporary art? Not Futurism: that was grabbed off more than a century ago.

All of which is to say that TBA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art‘s annual Time-Based Art festival, is 15 years old, which makes it something of a patriarchal figure in the swiftly shape-shifting Art of the Now. Still, it stands resolutely for what’s new and experimental, and this year’s festival, which ended Sunday (a few visual-art exhibitions continue until October 11), strove as always to keep things fresh. ArtsWatch writers were out and about, checking out TBA’s tradition of the new, and here are their latest reports:

The dance of the cook, the cook of the dance. Dance, couscous, and iPods coalesced in Radhouane El Meddeb’s culinary performance piece Je dans et je vous en donne à bouffer. The mood, Nim Wunnan writes, “oscillated between the sort of lighthearted or distracted prancing one does while on the schedule of a recipe and then, during the longer boils, something deeper and reverential as Meddeb clearly channeled his memories of other times and places where he was present for the preparation of this kind of feast.”

Philippe Quesne’s heavy-metal fairy tale.Andrea Stolowitz goes down the VW Rabbit hole and into the deep dark woods of Quesne’s La Mélancolie de Dragons, where AC/DC and Metallica hang out.

Still mighty and Tiny after all these years. At The Works, Nim Wunnan took in the “triumphant parade” of performers in Ten Tiny Dances, Mike Barber’s TBA and Portland perennial that’s been showcasing tiny dances for almost as long as TBA’s been around.

Wandering through Quesne's melancholic fairy tale. Photo: Pierre Grosbois

Wandering through Quesne’s melancholic fairy tale. Photo: Pierre Grosbois


SEASONAL MILESTONES ARE UPON US: Yom Kippur begins at sundown today, and autumn begins tomorrow. After a pause for reflection, the city picks up the pace with a variety of cultural options.