edgar meyer

A hearty encore for David Shifrin

After 40 years, the clarinetist supreme retires as director of Chamber Music Northwest. His colleagues give him a round of applause.

Even the most ardent classical-music enthusiasts may not know several details about celebrated clarinetist David Shifrin, who retired this summer after 40 years as artistic director of Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest.

  • He uses synthetic — not cane — reeds.
  • His distant relative Lalo Schifrin (different spelling), who came to Hollywood from Argentina, persuaded David Shifrin’s parents to buy him a clarinet when David was growing up in Queens, New York. Pianist Schifrin, now 88, composed the theme from Mission Impossible, and David Shifrin, 18 years his junior, decades later commissioned him to compose pieces for the clarinet that ended up on the Aleph Label in 2006, Shifrin Plays Schifrin. The compositions were played at CMNW.
David Shifrin: a song and a smile. Photo courtesy CMNW
  • Hearing Benny Goodman play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and “lots and lots of swing” in the 1956 movie The Benny Goodman Story assured Shifrin that he had picked the right instrument. “I just fell in love with the clarinet,” said Shifrin, who at 13 attended Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. Surrounded by serious young players, including violinist sisters Ida and Ani Kavafian (who perform often at Chamber Music Northwest), he convinced himself that to be a musician, “I’d have to work very, very hard, practice and practice, and be the best I could be.” That summer, he thought he’d give the career a shot. He’s never recalibrated his aim.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Hot and cold running summer

Mandolins, saxophones, loopy music, and jazz fusion

Portland summers have a little something for everyone. If you like your summers dry, hot, and aggressive, you can easily get your fill of blinding, baking, oppressively sweaty sunpocalypse. If you like your summers bitter, cloudy, soggy, and unseasonably cold—well, you’ll get your fill of that too. And hey, if you like perfect summers full of warm, friendly blue skies and cool, refreshing breezes chasing fluffy clouds across the golden horizon….well, you live here. You know Portland’s got you covered for that kind of summer too.

The music here is much the same. Just this week we’ve got everything from massed mandolins and stacked saxophones to jazz of all stripes, a lot more Chamber Music Northwest, and digitally looped harp, voice, violin, and cello. Read on to get your weekly forecast—and remember your sunscreen!

This Weekend

If outdoor listening is your bag, you’ve got two good options in Southeast Portland this weekend. The two-dozen strong Oregon Mandolin Orchestra—“mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos and crazy-huge mandobass”—performs at 2 p.m. on Saturday July 13 in Westmoreland Park, as part of the all-day Portland Picnic Wine Tasting Festival. On Sunday, Portland’s favorite saxophone quartet—the majestic Quadraphonnes, led by Mary-Sue Tobin—perform in Western Pacific University’s free “Summer Concerts & Movies In the Park” series. The band plays at 6:30. The surprisingly entertaining blockbuster Aquaman screens afterward, with free popcorn. Keep an eye out for Dolph Lundgren’s astonishing beard!

Portland saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes.

Meanwhile, CMNW is cooking right along with unstoppable verve and ferocity. Just today, at the third New@Noon concert, we heard the Miró Quartet turn in a very lovely performance of Caroline Shaw’s Entr’Acte, and you’ll read all about how their interpretation varied from Calidore’s in a couple weeks, when we all stop going to concerts and finally have time to write about them. For now, I can only tell you that their excellent playing and lively vibes got me all excited for their two appearances this weekend.

On Saturday July 13, Miró finishes their complete Beethoven Opus 18 mini-cycle, begun last Thursday. This will be the good half of old Ludwig van’s early quartet set, with its operatic C minor and its serendipitously transcendent Bb major. Then, Sunday July 14, they’re joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who today gave the only performance of Rzewski that made any kind of sense to me (more on that later as well). Vonsattel and Miró will perform Mendelssohn, Brahms, and the Schumanns.

The Territory and beyond

I can’t even imagine how local jazz composer Darrell Grant must feel about competing with the Sun Ra Arkestra next week. Grant’s The Territory has a two-day run at CMNW (Monday at Reed, Tuesday at PSU), while the Arkestra plays those same two nights at the historic Hollywood Theatre on Southeast Sandy. Although both artists fall broadly under the heading of “jazz,” stylistically and thematically they could hardly be more different. One is as local as it gets, a suite about the Pacific Northwest performed by a jazz great who’s called Portland home since the 90s. The other is—if you believe the hype—literally from outer space.

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Music Notes: transitions & triumphs

Summer roundup of recent news in Oregon classical and jazz music

Oregon’s leading classical music public radio station All Classical Portland has launched a brand-new second radio network, for children. The International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN) is a 24-hour radio service and, the station announcement says, is the first of its kind in the US. Designed for young listeners, the network features music, poems, and literature from around the world, locally produced and curated by All Classical Portland. “ICAN provides an audio destination where kids can be inspired to listen, dance, color outside the lines, and create their own adventures,” ICAN Program Manager Sarah Zwinklis said in a press release. “Much of the content on the network will be presented by children – we believe in the power of these young voices.” Listen online at allclassical.org/ican or through an HD Radio.

The station also operates a free arts journalism mentorship program that selects three high school age (ages 15-18) students from Oregon & SW Washington to be Youth Roving Reporters each year. From September – June, they’ll learn how to use recording equipment in the field, attend two arts events, conduct interviews with artistic leaders or performers, and learn to produce their interviews for radio broadcast. As ArtsWatch has previously reported, it also operates JOY: an Artist in Residence program, which includes a young artist residency.

Laurels & Shekels

• Speaking of All Classical Portland, Metropolitan Youth Symphony presented the station its 2019 Musical Hero Award in April. The station’s On Deck with Young Musicians program has featured dozens of MYS musicians in performances and interviews with All Classical Portland host and producer Christa Wessel.

• The Oregon Symphony presented its 2019 Schnitzer Wonder Award to Mariachi Una Voz of the Hillsboro School District. Launched in 2010 and including strings, brass, and singing, the group’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and community unity through music education and performance. Participation is free and open to all Hillsboro middle- and high-school students. It has performed on more than 100 school and community events, performing in venues as diverse as the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts theaters, the Moda Center, major regional cultural festivals, and schools, libraries and hospitals.

“Every child who wishes to learn to play a musical instrument should have the opportunity,” said founder and manager Dan Bosshardt in a press release. “The students that find their way to our group have inspiring personal stories. They have very supportive families that often do not have the financial means to provide transportation, instruments, lessons, or private instruction.”

• ArtsWatch congratulates a pair of Portland choral music leaders who just scored major national awards from Chorus America. Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon won the 2019 Botto Award named after Chanticleer founder Louis Botto. She “has captained a bold organizational shift—from its original mission exploring links between music, art, poetry, and theatre, to a new focus exclusively on presenting concerts that promote meaningful social change.”

Katherine FitzGibbon leading Resonance Ensemble

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MusicWatch Weekly: hidden figures

This week's Oregon concerts include music unfairly consigned to the background

Best known as the premier exponent and explorer of the musical traditions of Byzantium and other early Christian music, Cappella Romana has recently branched out into other Orthodox Christian music descended from Byzantine origins, including Russian, Finnish, Ukrainian and more. You’re unlikely to hear any of this music performed anywhere else by anyone. Now the incomparable vocal ensemble shares its latest discovery: long lost Armenian Orthodox liturgical music.

In a concert directed by founding artistic director Alexander Lingas and Haig Utidjian, a British conductor of Armenian descent, they’ll sing traditional Armenian chants and later arrangements of them by 19th century Armenian choirmaster Makar Ekmalian and his student, Komitas Vardapet, regarded as the savior of Armenian music, who collected and transcribed thousands of works that would have otherwise been lost to history. It’s a chance to experience a lost world through music.
Thursday, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter St., Eugene; Saturday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch St, Portland; and Sunday, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave, Portland.

Edgar Meyer, here shown at Chamber Music Northwest, performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jim Leisy.

• Bassists usually lurk in the background onstage, but Edgar Meyer has turned his big acoustic bass into a lead instrument. One of the country’s most in-demand studio musicians, he’s scored a MacArthur “genius” grant, formed a popular ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and Bela Fleck named after his composition “Appalachia Waltz,” starred in bluegrass, classical, folk and country music recordings, and composed major orchestral works. Meyer joins the Oregon Symphony as soloist in his third double bass concerto, written in 2011, and he’ll be back this summer at Chamber Music Northwest. The concert also features an 1845 bass concerto by Italian composer Giovanni Bottesini, Aaron Copland’s ever-popular 1943 ballet score Appalachian Spring, and another tuneful, landmark 20th century work by the dean of African American composers: William Grant Still’s exhilarating 1930 Afro-American Symphony — a most welcome addition to an orchestral music scene still lacking demographic diversity.
Friday, Smith Hall, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performs with the Oregon Symphony.

• On Sunday, the orchestra backs Grammy- and Tony Award-winning show tune singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who er, shot to fame in the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, and parlayed it and his considerable vocal talent into a successful side career singing jazz and Broadway hits.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• More welcome diversity distinguishes Oregon Sinfonietta’s free Sunday concert: a work by a female composer. British composer Ethel Smyth’s breakthrough, four-movement 1890 Serenade silenced many skeptics who wondered whether women had what it takes to write for orchestra. She went on to excel in opera and choral composition before her career was sadly shortened by deafness. The concert includes music by  Mozart, Debussy and Smyth’s English contemporary, George Butterworth, whose career was truncated even more tragically and abruptly by a German sniper’s bullet in World War I at age 31.
Sunday, Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church, 10501 SE Market St, Portland.

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Chamber Music Northwest review: Category-busting Collaboration

Musicians Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and George Meyer lit up the string-fired pyrotechnics in Chamber Music Northwest’s “In Motion” performance.

by ANGELA ALLEN

If any dance company avoids the obvious, it’s Portland’s 17-year-old imaginative and ultra-flexible BodyVox, which cannot be wedged into any genre or box, no matter how big and bendable the container. Ballet? Modern? Jazz? Full-stage projected videos? Computer graphics as backdrops? Opera collaborators? Wacky. Whimsical. The innovative company’s technically solid members make just about any move in a mix of styles, and make you laugh at their clever movement as they unfold, unlock and untangle. In what has evolved into a Portland starry summer tradition and star-spangled collaboration, BodyVox paired up with Chamber Music Northwest over the Fourth of July weekend.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

 

CMNW’s headliner, double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, also remains un-boxable. If there’s one category to squeeze him into, it might be that mostly wild indefinable mix of Americana. But Meyer’s range is huge: bluegrass with Bela Fleck, Bulgarian folk dances, toe-tapping duets, Appalachian tunes with Yo-Yo Ma, Bach, of course, and his own work, of which several pieces were performed for this collaboration. Meyer occasionally accompanies James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks – and teaches at London’s Royal Academy of Music and the Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Also, he plays the piano.

Completing the circle of this collaboration, Curtis is the Dover Quartet members’ alma mater, where cellist Peter Wiley mentored the group. The quartet and Wiley accompanied dancers in the first part of the performance. Joining Meyer were worldwide mandolin maestro Mike Marshall, who plays with astonishingly fast fingers the entire family of mandolins, including the mandola (and the guitar) and Edgar Meyer’s talented, suited-up Harvard-student son, George, on violin, viola and mandolin.

The best of the show was “Leave the Light On,” a long piece choreographed by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland. It was broken into several parts signaled by Meyer’s compositions: “Short Trip Home,” “Dance Music” (co-composed by Marshall and George Meyer), “Sliding Down,” “Indecision” and “1B,” each arranged for the three musicians’ array of stringed instruments. Dancers flew on and off the stage wearing unmatched, slightly disarrayed half-tutus (guys in white shirts), making jokes on traditional ballet positions and lifts, sweeping one another up in gender-blendering, breaking all the rules. The background blipped with childlike computer-driven graphics and words (including a glowing porch light, blinking bugs, word-drops of rain). Leaning into his bass with an easy-going but sure-footed possessiveness, shirt sleeves rolled up, Meyer led the musicians’ combination of first-class skill and playfulness that matched BodyVox’s.

he performance’s first part featured a mix of pieces shared by BodyVox dancers and the fast-rising, tautly playing Dover Quartet musicians (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, cellist Camden Shaw, and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt).

Cellist Peter Wiley opened the show with  J.S. Bach’s melancholy Prelude from Suite No. 2 in D Minor, accompanied by his dancing daughter, Dona Wiley, a member of New York-based CelloPointe. Their lonely, tender duet was a far distance in mood from the concluding exuberance of “Leave the Light On.”

Meyer and Marshall also played July 3 at CMNW’s sold-out performance at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium. As Edgar Meyer, a 2002 MacArthur award-winner, expressed in several different ways throughout the show – a performance that could have easily been staged at the Aladdin Theater or the Schnitz for its wide entertainment appeal— “tonight is about more playing and less talking.”

They concentrated on blending alarmingly well on numerous instruments, sometimes sounding like an entire string section. The musicians engage – tipping on their toes, reaching into one another’s harmonic and physical space – in intimate heartbeat-rousing musical conversations that cross age and genre barriers.  Many of the pieces were, as Meyer quipped, “mercifully untitled. We specialize in not naming songs.” No names, no boxes: these Chamber Music Northwest collaborations defy category.

Second and third shows are 8 p.m. July 5 and 4 p.m. July 6 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. For information and tickets call 503-294-6400 or email: tickets@cmnw.org.

Angela Allen, a Portland writer, covers jazz, opera and other arts. This spring she taught creative writing at Rosa Parks Elementary in north Portland. In August, she’ll receive her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry/Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.    

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Edgar Meyer/ Photo by Jim Leisy, Chamber Music Northwest

This weekend I resembled the bees in my backyard, nosing around for a little something to take back to the hive, you know, a little Edgar Meyer sweetness at Chamber Music Northwest, a couple of blossoms at the JAW festival, another visit to Dance+ for Part Two.

Unlike the indefatigable bees, though, I’m not intending to build an entire honeycomb from the experience. And here, I’m taking leave of the metaphor altogether, especially because I know next to nothing about bees to begin with nor their alleged indefatigability. For all I know, bees start their days with the best of intentions and then find themselves distracted by less-than-urgent business on the Internet, just as I do! Hey, who DID win that air pistol gold medal?

Where was I? Right. No honeycombs and no more bees. (I am suppressing SO many bee puns right now…)

“The People’s Republic of Portland,” Lauren Weedman, JAW festival: You know the deal with JAW, right? Staged readings of plays-in-progress, which means that anything you see or hear could change or disappear before it hits the stage in a real production. And that means getting too deeply into the scripts is foolhardy, and the actors haven’t had time to develop their characters fully, so questioning a particular characterization doesn’t make sense, either.

That doesn’t mean we can’t write SOMETHING about the shows we see, though, although it’s likely, in Weedman’s case, just to confirm what you probably know already: Lauren Weedman is funny! And her reading was more like a progress report on how her reporting on the topic of Portland is going rather than a first read of a finished monologue. So… how’s she doing?

Lauren Weedman in “Bust” at Portland Center Stage/Owen Carey

Well, hard to say, because “Portlandia” has made this commissioned piece (by Portland Center Stage: the show is set to debut in April) difficult. How much satire can the city sustain? Food jokes, personal enlightenment jokes, gay jokes, stripper jokes? Check, check and check!

Trying to get off the usual merry-go-round of approved Weird Portland destinations (I remember when all we really had in the way of Approved Weird was the Church of Elvis and the Sandy Jug tavern), she wandered into some serious issues. But the problem is that Serious Portland is a lot like everyplace else: We struggle with changes to our neighborhoods that force out one class or race of residents and replaces them with others, for example. Maybe we’re trying to do more about it than most American cities going through similar things, but even so, this isn’t funny. Or maybe it is. I know even less about making comedy than I do about bees. Maybe a “Portland Is Really a Hellhole Just Like Every Other American City” comedy hour would be a laff riot.

Weedman’s got a good eye and ear, though, and as she wanders about, she encounters funny characters and situations.  Compared to her home ground in Indiana (she lives in LA now), the West Coast and Portland must seem optimistic, a place where technology, spiritual questing, the arts, the hand-made and the participatory (democracy, crafting, ‘zining, etc.) intersect in curious, amusing ways. And sometimes even profitable ways (in 2010 Portland’s growth in GDP was close to eight percent, I just heard on the radio). Maybe in her place, that’s the nexus I’d explore, not to make big “statements” about the future or nature of the city (both unknowable, right?) but simply to encounter the stories and characters that might be a little different from Evansville (which used to be the Big City to this western Kentucky boy) or even Indianapolis.

Whatever Weedman comes up with, I’ll be there, though, because she’s smart and engaging. That’s a pretty great start.

Dance+, Part Two, Conduit: I’ve written a couple of times about Dance+. Basically, Conduit (the downtown Portland dance studio non-profit) put out a call for proposals, specifically asking for collaborations between choreographers and other art forms, and a panel of judges selected eight to perform over two weekends, though one of them was scuttled from Part Two (Luciana Proano, “for reasons beyond her control”).

Some brief notes about Part Two? The Friendly Pheromones (Zahra Banzi, Chase Hamilton and Zoe Nelson) collaborated with Wave Clamor Bellow, performing together onstage. The tone was melancholy, by and large. In a sad world, sometimes we humans just form little clumps of support and maybe protection. Unclumped, up and dancing, the Pheromones moved in a satisfying classical modern style, that made the most of Hamilton’s angles, Banzi’s quickness and lightness and Nelson’s athleticism.

Gregg Bielemeier and Keyon Gaskin’s collaboration with composer Philippe Bronchstein was comic, full of quirky little solos and duets, though I hate using the word “quirky” to describe what Bielemeier does—he’s light and comic, like a Klee painting maybe, and Gaskin fit right in, capturing the little arm gestures above the head and little spins that mark Bielemeier’s work generally. Gaskin, though, turns Bielemeier’s shuffles into something altogether “leggier”—and funny in a slightly different way. And yes, there was a little cross-dressing at the end.

Danielle Ross’s “The Loveliest Landscape” is an extended solo with projected slides, strings of lights and flour, which Ross formed into little mounds and then scattered, with music and co-design by Christi Denton. I loved the semi-abstract slides projected onto Conduit’s back wall and mouldings, perfect for situating us in a space and dance that seemed to be trying to tell us something explicit but then pulled back for a more poetic gesture, either movement or visual. And I liked Ross and Denton’s ambition—”The Loveliest Landscape” is complex, various, well-considered.

“The Bachelors,” Caroline V. McGraw, JAW: Before hitting Dance+, I caught this dark comedy, which mostly makes fun of single men and their, um, relationship problems, if you consider breaking the rules about touching in a strip club a relationship problem. Maybe in the broadest sense? Anyway, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for these guys, even the sad-sack ones, which makes it easier to laugh at them.

The cast of Blake DeLong, Darius Pierce and Patrick Alparone seemed to have a good time with the material, and they adeptly located the laughs and drew them out of the audience. If I were giving feedback (and I’m not!), I’d say maybe one of the key turns didn’t seem logical to me (in the psycho-logical sense), but people were laughing around me, so they clearly had no trouble tracking.

 

Edgar Meyer/ Photo by Jim Leisy, Chamber Music Northwest

Edgar Meyer, Chamber Music Northwest: I’ll just say a word or two about Edgar Meyer, whom I interviewed back in 2009 when I was first attempting to work out some things about how classical music could renew itself, become part of a vital, living cultural conversation. Meyer was perfect for this because he’s a walking, breathing, bass-playing fusion project, who can find the heart of the matter in the classical repertoire as well as participate in and compose contemporary music.

And his concert at Kaul Auditorium was a demonstration project (here’s James McQuillen’s review). He started with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, which he played on bass, of course, and then moved first to a series of his own compositions (mostly, he also played Jobim) and then, for the encore, to music by his 19-year-old son George, who showed up to play violin alongside his dad. In his own work, the straw of the hoedown and some low-down mountain lonesome mix together, maybe with a little Western swing syncopation sometimes, and he glides up and down the neck of the bass easy as pie, producing sonic effects that make you laugh and also fit perfectly into the songs.

I think what I’ll remember most is the way Meyer paused in between movements of the Bach. He’d gather a breath, sigh, look at us, look heavenward and roll his eyes a little, throw his arm out around the neck of the bass and shake his hands (reminding me somehow of Stanley Laurel, the great Silent Era comedian) and then curl his fingers around the instrument, hunching over it at the same time. Playing a cello solo on the bass? That’s work, man!

And you know what? In the final movement, a gigue, a dance form that originated in the British jig, I thought I overheard the conversation between Bach and Appalachian mountain folk music. Without Meyer, I may not have noticed that.