eriks esenvalds

Safe Distance Sounds 3: Oregon voices

Recent recordings by Cappella Romana, the Broken Consort, Portland State University Chamber Choir and The Industry showcase Oregon choral and vocal music

Of all the music we’re missing in these days of suspended live performances, perhaps the most missed — and most lethal — is choral music. One of the first major outbreaks of Covid 19, after all, derived from a Northwest choir rehearsal, and every choral performance involves slinging a lot of breath and its hangers-on droplets around a stage.

And yet, choral music is to many of us the most life-giving music. Not just because it directly involves the breath — the same breath the virus threatens — but also because it combines musical and verbal communication. Even when we don’t even understand the language being sung, many of us crave the sound of the live human voice, especially when many of us are denied it during the lockdown when, sadly, we’re denied it. And it may be some time before we can hear it again live. Although, lots of folks are trying new things.

So, to continue our series of reviews of recent recordings of Oregon music (earlier installments covered jazz/improvised and chamber music), here are some choral, vocal and opera recordings that might help assuage the loss of live performances. For more Oregon voices on record, check ArtsWatch’s recent archives for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch reviews of recent albums by Oregon Repertory Singers and In Mulieribus.

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ACDA Conference: choral camaraderie

Convocation of choral excellence in Portland features diverse music and a strong bracket, but ignores larger community

by BRUCE BROWNE

Think of it as March Madness. No rankings, no betting on outcomes, but this (approximately) “Sweet 16” of choirs from all over the Northwest who converged in Portland last month for the Northwest Regional American Choral Directors conference was no less a bunch of winning teams.

Like the storied Dukes, Kentuckies, and UConns, our representative choirs consisted, too, of nationally known programs of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. Pacific Lutheran University, directed by Richard Nance, for example, has been a choral face on the national scene for some 50 years, since the great Maurice Skones put it on the map. The Marian singers of St. Mary’s Catholic School in Portland have established themselves as leaders in their school division. But there were some new kids on the block as well — University of Wyoming Women’s Choir and Graham-Kapowsin high school from Bethel, Washington.

St. Mary’s Academy Women’s Choir performed at the ACDA conference in Portland. Photo: Howard Meharg.

Middle school through college choirs and community choirs are selected to participate through a blind submission process in various categories including higher and lower voices, youth and adult. The quality demonstrated at concerts and workshops was a great testimony to choral education programs’ keeping the art alive. Only the aforementioned Marian Singers and Portland State University choirs represented the hometown scene. Three Salem choral programs did make the trip.

More Gown than Town

Although the ACDA conference is geared toward the professional conductor/singer – mostly in education – most of these concerts would have been very attractive to the choral aficionados of Portland and environs; this is a strong choral town. The public is welcome to these concerts but they may not know they are. Sadly, I saw very few, if any, non-ACDA members at these concerts. Perhaps ACDA leadership can explore this for future gatherings.

Those who did attend were rewarded with a wide variety of choral music. There were the standard classic composers: Monteverdi, Jannequin; Debussy; Rheinberger. Contemporary composers: Seattle’s John Muehleisen, Alberto Ginastera, Maryam Sameer Faheem Khoury, Portland’s Joan Szymko, Jaakko Montyjarvi, Libby Larsen. There were many different cultural flavors: Estonian; Japanese; Sami, Inuit.

Following is a roundup of as many choirs as I could hear in the four-day period. It was not possible to hear all the presentations at one convention, so the omission of a choir or conductor is no sign of their not being worthy of mention on another occasion.

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