denis floyd

Cascadia Composers reviews: Lights, poetry, music

Concerts seek meaning beyond music through complementary art forms

One of the oldest questions in music — right after “what the hell is music, anyways?” — is how music expresses meaning. We normally think of meaning as a semantic thing, something that can be explained in words and symbols. We can, of course, regard music as a kind of language…but when we think of meaning in music we normally go outside the music itself to something more overtly linguistic. Usually that means lyrics, libretti, and programmatic music based on poems or stories. We also tend to think of musical meaning as being something non- or extra-auditory — paintings, religious iconography, or the physical appearances of performers, conductors, and composers. In the past few months, Cascadia Composers has put on two concerts dealing with these strategies for meaning-making in music: one visual, one linguistic.

Visual Meaning: Desire for the Sacred

January’s Desire for the Sacred concert, hosted at Lewis & Clark College’s sylvan Agnes Flanagan Chapel, was as much light show as concert: performers on several compositions played up in the organ loft while the audience sat enveloped in the colored lights projected all over the chapel’s gorgeous modernist wooden ceiling and its Casavant organ, the world’s only circular pipe organ, its pipes suspended from the chapel’s ceiling in a dense spiral.

The organ in Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

The light show was run by Nicholas Yandell, whose music began each half of the concert. In the opening Dilate; Elucidate, slowly evolving pastels emulated the holy glow of the rising sun and reflected the yearning arpeggiations and pedal notes of the Pacific Northwest’s resident organ god, Dan Miller. After intermission, Yandell’s Hymn of Daybreak resurrected the solar theme, this time with Cheryl Young at the manuals and the sweet longing of Kurt Heichelheim’s distant horn imbuing the chapel with numinous charms.

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FearNoMusic review: Church of new sounds

New music ensemble's concert makes a bully pulpit for new music by Oregon composers

I have now gone to so many Fear No Music concerts at The Old Church in Southwest Portland and met so many of the same performers, composers, teachers, and classmates (some of these fields overlap) that now it really does feel just like going to church, except that the music is mostly better (as is the company) and the wine comes in adult-sized glasses. The subject of the sermon at the new music ensemble’s February 13 concert, Locally Sourced Sounds, drew an attentive congregation of new music disciples and devotees.

FearNoMusic. Photo: JasonQuigley.

The first acolyte I always spot at these shows is Jeff Winslow, composer, ArtsWatcher, and Cascadian, with his bushy white beard and his attentive, friendly eyes. Percussion guru Joel Bluestone was there too, still part of the FNM family even after retiring from the group last year. Composer, violist, and FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch was tending the famous wine bar, dispensing generous pours of Lompoc IPA—that is, when he wasn’t on stage turning pages for FNM’s executive director (and Bunch’s wife), pianist Monica Ohuchi.

Two student composers from Reed College, Yiyang Wang and Nathan Showell, rounded out a program featuring Cascadian Denis Floyd, University of Oregon’s David Crumb, and Portland State’s legendary Tomas Svoboda, the patron saint (to continue the church analogy) of Cascadia Composers.

Voglar Belgique, Payne and Ives performed Yiyang Wang’s piano trio.

The concert opened with Wang’s Color Studies for piano trio, a perfect bit of chamber music which seemed rather too sophisticated for a college junior. Wang’s opening “Fugue in G” starts with a dark and “Shostakovichianmodal subject; cellist Nancy Ives fittingly evoked Rostropovich’s rich tone while Inés Voglar Belgique’s violin hovered sweetly above, supported by pianist Jeff Payne’s usual restrained, centered touch. Extended techniques characterized the second movement, “Steel,”with Payne plucking high glockenspielisch harmonics, strumming Cowell-esque chords, and brushing the low strings for a sound like sizzling power lines; meanwhile, Voglar Belgique and Ives passed the theme around with bouncy pizzicato glissandi. The final movement, “Racing”, used an erhu-inspired melody to pit the instruments against each other in a mad bitonal dash towards an inconclusive climax on a genuinely nutty (and well-voiced) cluster chord. If this is what Wang is capable of as an undergrad, I can’t wait to hear what she does after she finishes her studies.

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