dali quartet

MusicWatch Weekly: reflections on divisions

Concerts feature new music inspired by today's American polarization

As we were saying last week, considering how unfairly under-represented they are on classical concert programs, a startling number of the 21st century’s finest composers in the classical tradition are women, who have managed to surmount centuries of barriers to musical gender equality. In Women Singing Women, Portland’s all-star choir Resonance Ensemble does a bit to redress the imbalance with an entire concert directed by a woman (Resonance Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon), performed by women (including the singers and pianist Kira Whiting), and featuring entirely works by women composers. The program features the world premiere of a major commission by rising young composer Melissa Dunphy that sets words from last summer’s excruciating Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings spoken by Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The concert also includes arrangement of Suzanne Vega’s hit “Blood Makes Noise” by Resonance’s Maria Karlin, and works by Carol Barnett (who’s written appealing works as diverse as a Bluegrass Mass to compositions influenced by Cypriot and Greek music), music by Portland choral conductor/composer Joan Szymko, Lori Laitman, Ysaye Barnwell, new original poetry by Portland’s S. Renee Mitchell, and more.
Sunday, Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave. Portland.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

From his smart, funny Craigslistlieder a decade ago to his gorgeous historical evocations of Los Angeles (where he grew up) to orchestral works like emergency shelter intake form (performed last spring by the Oregon Symphony) and Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States (performed at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival), Gabriel Kahane has emerged as one of America’s foremost young contemporary classical music voices. After the election catastrophe of 2016, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist embarked on a two-week train trip across the country, striving to understand our national polarization. Traveling nearly 9,000 miles sans cellphone and internet connection, he instead tried to connect personally with Americans an inhabitant of any hipsterville might never otherwise encounter — not through digital intermediaries, but through their stories. In his new album Book of Travelers, whose music he’ll perform solo with piano in this Chamber Music Northwest concert, he turned conversations with fellow travelers — truck drivers, postmasters, engineers, nurses — into an intimate album’s worth of understated songs for just his voice and piano — a musical portrait of a troubled nation on the brink of wrenching political upheaval. Kahane tells poignant stories through the eyes of the characters he observes with empathy and understanding.
Wednesday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave. Portland.

Gabriel Kahane performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Josh Goleman.

Despite today’s polarization, several other concerts feature music that reflect artists’ countervailing tendencies toward bringing cultures together. One of the most popular ensembles brought to town by Friends of Chamber Music, the entertaining Dalí Quartet, composed of members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the US, returns for a program of 20th-century and contemporary Latin American classical music. The program features a tango ballet by Argentina’s great nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla, a powerful quartet by his countryman Alberto Ginastera, another by Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos, and other hidden gems you’re not likely to hear on any standard American classical chamber music program.
Thursday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland

The Dali Quartet performs at The Old Church in Friends of Chamber Music’s Not So Classic Series. Photo: John Green.

• Portland State continues its celebration of the great 20th century composer Francis Poulenc in Poulenc and the Piano, with this free noon concert (live streamed here) featuring faculty members playing his spiffy 1932 Sextet for piano and winds and his setting of of the children’s tale The Story of Babar for piano and narrator.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

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MusicWatch Weekly: freedom songs

Socially conscious sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

In focusing on the music of the past, classical music programming has too often ignored the concerns of the present. But over the past couple years, some Portland classical music organizations have focused on issues of social and especially racial justice — none more conscientiously than the all star choir Resonance Ensemble, which devoted last season to music and poetry related to some of today’s most pressing social concerns.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s Hidden Voices concert continues that commendable emphasis by taking the music out of the usual concert halls and bringing it to Bethel A.M.E. Church, 5828 NE 8th Ave., Portland’s oldest continuously operating black church, and also Oregon’s only African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Composer Damien Geter sings with Resonance Ensemble. Photo: Kenton Waltz.

With help from BRAVO Youth Orchestra (Portland’s version of Venezuela’s groundbreaking El Sistema program that brings classical music training to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it) and Derrick McDuffey and the gospel ensemble Kingdom Sound, they’ll perform the world premiere of a movement from Resonance singer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s Requiem, which sets texts by African-American men killed by police, and the West Coast premiere of American Dreamers, a piece by young Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy (whose Gonzales Cantata was performed last week by Portland’s Big Mouth) that sets texts by five Americans who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. Resonance Poet in Residence S. Renee Mitchell contributes another original work.

• The 20-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs “Songs of the Free” Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, often mixes traditional and popular music from around Africa with exuberant American gospel styles and even pop music arrangements by African diasporites like Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding and Bob Marley. Winner of top gospel music awards and Grammys, the choir has scored a world music chart-topping album, worked with members of Queen and Bono, and performed for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Composed of some of the finest singers around Soweto and Johannesburg, its concerts present a striking visual as well as auditory experience, replete with multi colored traditional costumes, high kicking synchronized dance moves, and accompanying percussion such as the djembe drum. Even when they sing Xhosa and a half dozen other languages, the ensemble supplies English explanations of the stories behind the songs.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

• Another Portland music institution whose programming has recently responded to today’s social concerts, FearNoMusic, joins Portland Taiko in music that responds to the American government’s brutal imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Sunday night’s Sticks + Strings concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., the new music group accompanies the Japanese percussion ensemble’s drummers in the premiere of Dango Jiru for taiko, flute, violin, and cello, a new work by FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch, Portland’s hottest contemporary composer, who’ll also play his haunting solo viola, Minidoka, inspired by his visit to one of those concentration camps. Portland Taiko will also perform one of their own pieces on that subject and other works.

Kenji Bunch plays his own music with Portland Taiko.

Orchestral Highlights

• Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at Portland’s First Baptist Church and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium not only present some of the standards of baroque music — Vivaldi’s Op. 3 violin concertos — but also some of the Red Priest’s equally ebullient music for singer (this time, Czech soprano Hana Blažíková) and orchestra: In furore iustissimae irae, RV626 and Nulla in mundo pax, RV 630.

• Another historically informed band, Emerald Chamber Orchestra, with singers Phoebe Gildea and Trevor Cook perform J.S. Bach’s fun Peasant Cantata (featuring a farmer and a tax collector) and his famous Orchestral Suite #2 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church Auditorium at 14th and Pearl Streets.

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