Daniel Bernard Roumain

Bending genres to the world’s shape

"Classical music remains racist," composer DBR declares. His vital music breathes the air of Prince, hip-hop, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone.

In the heatwave of the Black Lives Matter movement and the thirst to hear new multicultural classical music, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is a force to be reckoned with. 

His striking, genre-bending music will be spotlighted at this season’s third virtual Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, from Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon. His pieces include “String Quartet No. 5 (Parks),” which speaks to Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala.; and “Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes,” 24 works in each musical key. His compositions are programmed with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s final “String Quartet, Opus 135” and the little-known Baroque composer/nun Isabella Leonarda’s “Sonata #12” for violin and cello. Roumain served as one of three virtual composers-in-residence for this year’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. (See my previous festival stories, Flights of music from a barrel room and Chamber music and a virtual toast, at Oregon Arts Watch.)

Composer DBR: “My work has always been a very small part of that big fight for justice.”

DBR, Roumain’s professional name, is “an important voice, now and in the future, and his music is stunning,” festival co-director and violinist Sasha Callahan said earlier this month. “The `Parks’ quartet we’ll be playing is fierce, bold, beautiful and full of life. It’s really evocative and distinctive” — and it includes clapping, a practice that reaches back to ancient cultures. 

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Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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‘Sons of the Soil’ preview: setting a new standard

Don't know any black classical composers? Start with these

by DAMIEN GETER

Joseph Bologne (Chevalier de Saint Georges), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and Daniel Bernard Roumain. None of these composers are household names but all are finally starting to get the attention they deserve. On Friday, in celebration of Black History Month, 45th Parallel Universe presents Sons of the Soil, a concert featuring music by these black composers performed by the all female string quartet mousai REMIX. (Read ArtsWatch’s concert preview.) There is no need to compare these greats to their white counterparts, but chances are if you are a fan of some of the more established masters, you will like these folks, too.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint George (1745-1799)

For fans of: Mozart, and Haydn

Who was he: Joseph Bologne, who later in life became known as the Chevalier de Saint-George, was a contemporary of Mozart’s and rumored to be the Austrian composer’s arch nemesis. Born in the French owned Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe, Joseph was the child of a planter and his wife’s young slave, who was most likely from Senegal. Joseph’s father sent him to France for his education, where he excelled in a number of areas including music (a violinist) and fencing. He became a noble fixture in France including a close friend to Marie Antoinette, but because of his African heritage, he was met with discrimination throughout his life. An advocate for ending slavery in France, he founded the Society of Friends of Black People and was a colonel of the first black legion in Europe.

Bologne penned a sizable body of compositions which included symphonies, string quartets, violin concerti, symphonie concertante, quartet concertante, and operas. Unfortunately, not many of his works survive, and even after France abolished slavery in 1794, new restrictions on black folks reemerged during Napoleon’s reign which moved Bologne’s music into a forgotten chapter of history until its recent revival.

Start with this: Ouverture, L’amant anonyme

This three-part overture (part 2, part 3) to Bologne’s surviving opera L’amant anonyme, mirrors early symphonic form. Its light textures and balanced melodies place it soundly in the Classical era and right in line with the traditions and compositional techniques of other Europeans who were composing during that time.

Also check out: George Bridgewater

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45th Parallel: expanding universe

Under new cooperative leadership, Portland organization kicks off ambitious 10th anniversary season this weekend with new ensembles and diverse programming

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

This year, 45th Parallel goes through a double shift, as the Portland-based classical music organization enters its 10th season and adds “Universe” to its appellation, reflecting a broadening of its roster and repertoire. This happens just as founder and long-time artistic director Greg Ewer passes the reins to his old pal and fellow Oregon Symphony violinist, former Third Angle artistic director Ron Blessinger, now 45th Parallel interim executive director.

The Universe comprises four distinct chamber groups—two string quartets, a wind quintet, and a percussion duo—who come together as a fifth group, the conductorless chamber orchestra Helios Camerata. They are, for now, all Oregon Symphony players. The Gemini Project is nothing more, nothing less, than OSO’s principal and co-principal timpanists; the five players of the Arcturus Quintet are likewise drawn from the OSO’s stellar wind sections, all of them principals or assistant principals.

The expanded 45th Parallel

Mousai ReMix (not to be confused with a similarly named Portland winds and piano ensemble) has, for the last six seasons, specialized in mostly conventional string quartet literature: Mendelssohn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Debussy, and Ravel, plus gobs of the perennial B&S Team (Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok, Schubert, Shostakovich, Schumann). The other string quartet in 45th’s constellation, Pyxis Quartet, is well familiar to Arts Watch readers: it’s the former Third Angle String Quartet, the same crew who have given us such loving performances of Glass and Reich and so on over the last few years, now riding a different parallel since first violinist Blessinger’s migration.

This season’s musical selections are, as always, all over the place, a feature microcosmically exemplified by Friday’s season opening Big Bang concert. Mousai ReMix will play a bit of middle-period Beethoven and Arcturus Quintet will play some early Carter, both good examples of embracing tradition while challenging it. Gemini Project will perform a duet composed by Robert Marino for himself and his drum corps bass buddy, a perfectly twinsy showcase for OSO pals Jon Greeney and Sergio Carreno. Pyxis will play a bit of dance music by Aaron Jay Kernis, the “Double Triple Gigue Fugue” finale from his second quartet. The second half showcases the fourteen-member Helios Camerata, an “experiment in democratic music making” composed of the members of all four groups, coalescing to play old music by Haydn and Rossini alongside newer works by Britten and Peruvian composer Jimmy López (best known for his Renee Fleming Initiative commissioned opera Bel Canto).

The whole season is like that: music from all across space and time, sometimes unified by theme but mainly unified by the organization’s democratic curatorial process and the findings of Ewer’s “musical laboratory.” The four smaller groups star in a pair of double concerts at The Old Church in southwest Portland, one in November and another in February. The binary concerts are a nice touch, I think: hour-long shows, back-to-back in the same venue with a half-hour break between. In November, Arcturus will perform works by Barber, Higdon, and Irving Fine; later that evening, Gemini will perform duos by Reich, Akiho, Peter Klatzow, and Fredrick Andersson, plus a new work by Carreno (on the event page hilariously titled “Serge piece”).

Mousai ReMix

In February, Mousai ReMix celebrates Black History Month with works by Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Beatrice Price, and Daniel Bernard Roumain. Pyxis Quartet will premiere I Spat in the Eye of Hate and Lived, an evening of commissioned works by local composers Kenji Bunch, Texu Kim, Bonnie Miksch, and Nicholas Yandell accompanying new poetry by percussionist Micah Fletcher, survivor of last year’s infamous TriMet stabbing incident. Helios closes the season at Trinity Episcopal Church with an evening of Richard Strauss, a program Blessinger characterized as “a lot of German food.”

ArtsWatch spoke with Blessinger and Ewer by phone. Their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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