florestan trio

MusicWatch Holidays: Auld lang syne

Wring the last drops of joy from 2019 with punky, funky, trippy New Year's Eve concerts

New Year’s Eve, like Death, is the great equalizer. We all celebrate the solstice-adjacent holidays differently–Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, Hogswatch, and so on–but those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar all come to the end of 2019 at more or less the same time. As we look back on one crazy year and look forward to another that promises to be just as bonkers, we’re reminded that we’re all stuck in this Weirdest Possible Timeline together.

So now that the presents have all been opened and the grievances have all been aired, it’s time to kill the fading year’s unfulfilled hopes and dreams and plant them in the dark soil of the coming year, where they will either germinate and bloom or get eaten by squirrels.

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MusicWatch Weekly: ringing out, ringing in

Year-ending classical concerts look forward as well as back

Celebrating a new year’s arrival is a perpetual affirmation of hope over experience. So it’s appropriate that some of Oregon’s end of year events represent elements we need more of in classical music: youthful vitality, widespread participation, inclusive American programming, laughter.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert-at-Christmas showcases its entire roster of nearly 300 musicians, plus alumni spanning much of the organization’s 95-year history. Performers from seven to 80 years old, include PYP’s Wind Ensemble, Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, and Alumni Orchestra. They’ll play a fun, affordable, family friendly program featuring Aaron Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday, Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the march from John Williams’s Superman score, and more.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas is Wednesday.

• Classical Revolution PDX’s annual Bachxing Day is, like so much of that essential community organization, insistently inclusive: any local musician, regardless of conservatory cred, is invited to propose a solo or small ensemble performance, as long as it’s — well, I can’t express the philosophy better than the organization itself: “Bachxing day is our Annual Celebration of ALL THINGS BACH. (And puns. See above.) We like J.S., but also expect to hear J.C., C.P.E., P.D.Q. and X.Y.Z – pretty much anything that has “Bach” in the name. All styles of interpretation and instrumentation are up for grabs, including historically inspired performance, molto schmaltzando, and Bach on kazoo.” The culminating number: JSB’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Wednesday, Artichoke Music, 2007 SE Powell Blvd. Portland.

New Year’s Eve

• Florestan Trio has been Portland’s stalwart classical chamber ensemble since Auld Lang Syne (times long past) — more than four decades. The current stellar lineup of pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz has been together for many years and are familiar figures on Oregon classical music stages and PSU classrooms. For this New Year’s Eve concert, Friends of Chamber Music pairs the venerable threesome with another Portland classical music veteran, pianist John Strege (who was music director at Trinity Cathedral for almost as long as the Florestans have been around) and baritone Kevin Walsh in a characteristically delightful divertimento and piano trio by Haydn, John Williams’s famous theme from his score for Schindler’s List, and more, plus dessert and champagne.
Monday, The Old Church, Portland

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

• As usual in recent New Year’s Eves, the Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony, abetted by singers from Portland State University, Oregon Repertory Singers, and Pacific Youth Choir plus vocal soloists. As is unfortunately not usual but is most welcome, the concert also includes orchestral music by 20th century African American composers better known for jazz. Best known as the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson was one of jazz’s 1920s pioneers. But starting in the 1930s, he began writing symphonic music, which was neglected by the racist white classical music establishment of his time. Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop (who now leads the Baltimore Symphony) recorded all of it for the first time in 1994, and the Oregon Symphony will play two of Johnson’s orchestral works: the symphonic poem Drums and the brief Victory Stride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s hip, fun version of Nutcracker ballet music is more than just another orchestral arrangement, featuring jazzy solos, complete reorchestration, swing rhythms, even new titles for the famous dances. It’s a sweet, sly revelation that merits hearing even if you’re surfeited with sugar plum fairies by now — an ideal combo of American and European holiday cheer.
Sunday and Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven, Ellington, and James P. Johnson Sunday and Monday.

•  3 Leg Torso and the Krebsic Orkestar
Portland’s favorite world chamber ensemble, 3 Leg Torso and Alex Krebs’ fiery dozen-member Balkan brass band, the Krebsic Orkestar, host a tangorrific New Years Eve party. You don’t have to know how to tango, but do be ready to dance like no one’s watching. DJ’d dance party follows.
Tango Berretin, Portland

• As 2018 mercifully closes, there’s so much wrong in our country that a significant portion of the music and theater being created today seems to be responding, often with outrage, to depredations perpetrated by our ruling class. A century and a half ago, the British Empire produced a similar share of evils, and artists responded.

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MusicWatch Weekly: from Maxville to Vanport to here and now

Musical celebration of Oregon’s African American history highlights the week's concert picks

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” ― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

So much of what ails America and Oregon has roots in our history. So much could be prevented or at least healed if we knew and listened to the lessons history teaches. But too many Americans find history boring, or irrelevant or maybe even threatening, and therefore make political choices that history will wind up revealing as dangerous, destructive or worse. It’s a big reason we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend.

Art can bridge that gap between history and action by making the past come alive. And art that reveals hidden but important history by telling the stories of people and communities is even more valuable, not just for what it tells us about yesterday, but about today — and tomorrow.

Marilyn Keller performs in ‘From Maxville to Vanport’ Saturday.

Which is why From Maxville To Vanport: A Celebration of Oregon’s Black History this Saturday night at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre promises to be such a valuable as well as entertaining show. Almost 70 years to the day after the Vanport Flood, this is the final performance of Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s concert of original songs and film shorts inspired by the stories of the multicultural populations of Oregon’s lost, short-lived predominantly African American communities, Maxville and Vanport, after last month’s shows in La Grande, Enterprise, and Baker City.

Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa County is where Maxville was built in 1923. Many of its loggers, homesteaders and ranchers came to Oregon in the Great Migration, when African Americans headed north seeking opportunity and equality denied them in the Jim Crow South. Unfortunately, the Oregon they encountered turned out to host its own white racist refugees, who frustrated, too often violently, their aspirations for decades. As has become obvious in recent years, their hateful legacy lingers.

But along with the challenges, including the losses entailed by pulling up roots and moving far from their families, churches and other nurturing institutions, Maxville’s residents also registered triumphs and created their own vital community before the town was shut down in 1933.

The same goes for Vanport, whose ultimate fate, if not necessarily its rich history, is likely more familiar to more Oregonians. In its six-year existence before it was destroyed by the horrific Memorial Day flood of 1948, the city (briefly Oregon’s second-largest) harbored a thriving community of shipyard workers who helped build the warships that helped win World War II.

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MusicWatch bi-Weekly: holiday traditions

Oregon serenades 2017 to an end — and none too soon — with Celtic, French, Spanish, Indian and more music from across the globe and the centuries

While everyone hunkers down for the holidays, the music plays on, but not nearly as often as usual, so MusicWatch is taking the rest of the year off as part of its musical fasting treatment for 2017’s overindulgence in Oregon’s musical overabundance. Meanwhile, here’s a few solstice-brighteners to take us through the end of the year.

In Mulieribus

Tickets have long been sold out for Wednesday’s “Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Gloria,” a historically informed performance of a pair of Italian baroque classics by the period instrument performers (from Portland Baroque Orchestra and others in the region) presented by Northwest Baroque Masterworks at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, but click the link above and see if someone cancels. One of the best shows of every holiday season, though, In Mulieribus’s annual concert, does have seats available. On Wednesday at Vancouver’s Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater and on Friday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the sublime Portland women’s vocal ensemble this time takes a French twist, with medieval carols, nativity songs and other music from the Renaissance and earlier by Binchois, Dufay, England’s John Taverner, and more.

Another annual Oregon holiday tradition, if a five-year run can qualify for that status, comes to a close Friday when Mark O’Connor and his 2017 Grammy winning musical family band bring their final Appalachian Christmas show to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives, who wrote about it for ArtsWatch last year, returns, and another family, the Seattle (O’Connor’s hometown) trumpet and piano team of Allen and Laura Vizzutti open for the multi-Grammy award winner who may be the world’s greatest fiddler, who’s played with many of the planet’s finest musicians and again brings his Americana-tinged holiday tunes to Oregon one last time.

Speaking of Americana holidays, Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays seasonal tunes at Portland’s luminous Festival of Lights at the gorgeous Grotto on Saturday. Lots of other bands and choirs are performing there throughout the holidays, so click the link to check ‘em out.

ArtsWatch has covered this combined music and theater event elsewhere, but here’s another reminder to catch the merry pianist and Liberace channeler David Saffert with Jillian Snow Harris in A Liberace & Liza Christmas at Portland’s Coho Theater December 21-30, with guest artists including singer Susannah Mars, star thespian Isaac Lamb, and more.

Next week at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s annual day after-Christmas concert takes a mostly Spanish turn with music Enrique Granados adapted from his piano pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings, Goyescas; Albeniz’s musical depiction of Seville’s famous Corpus Christi Day procession, and some of the finest ballet music of the 20th century, a suite from Manuel de Falla’s colorful The Three Cornered Hat. An unrelated bonus: music from John Williams’s score to the reptilian screen classic Parque Jurassic. 

On December 30-31 at Portland’s Community Music Center, another annual holiday music tradition, Oregon Renaissance Band’s holiday concert, goes all Celtic, with a baker’s dozen specialists on wonderful archaic instruments like sackbutts, viola da gamba, cornamusen, krummhorns, racketts, tartold, bagpipes, spinettino, tabor, and even early recorders and violins playing and singing ancient tunes by Turlough O’Carolan, William Byrd, John Playford, Thomas Weelkes and more.

South India’s Carnatic tradition is just as venerable as all these European early music shows, and Oregon is fortunate to boast a family of musicians whose lineage on the beautiful, ancient long-necked veena lute stretches back eleven generations. Renowned India born veena virtuosi Sreevidhya Chandramouli and Chandramouli Narayanan join their sons Kapila and Sushruta Chandramouli and ghatam (clay pot) percussion master Ravi Balasubramanian December 30 for a Carnatic classical concert at Portland’s Christ United Methodist Church.

The Oregon Symphony plays music from Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

On December 30 and New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, “Pink Martini New Year’s Extravaganza” returns with Portland’s own retro-Latin-Euro big band’s annual joint venture with the Oregon Symphony, now expanded to three performances, but tickets remain for only the last, late night bash. Along with orchestra-enhanced hits from throughout Pink Martini’s career and recent CD Je Dis Oui!, the Oregon Symphony will perform the glorious final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #9.

For a smaller scale NYE, catch Portland’s venerable Florestan Trio, 41 years old and counting, as they precede a champagne and dessert reception with an hour of chamber music classics by Franck (from his famous violin sonata, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Falla and more at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

The Christmas myth is many things, but one of them involves a resurrection story, which should resonate with fans of Eugene Opera, which just arose from its most recent near-death experience. Its New Year’s Eve opera buffa, Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville, also has some here-and-now resonance, with its story of a powerful older man trying to coerce a much younger woman into an abusive relationship. Eugene Opera’s cast mixes a pair of Met vets (baritone Malcolm MacKenzie and mezzo Heather Johnson) with local stars Jake Gardner, Bill Hulings, recent arrival Craig Phillips (the New York Polyphony singer now at the UO) and more, all conducted by Andrew Bisantz, who’s added the title of artistic director to his EO portfolio. Maybe the triumph of true love over sexual predation will get 2018 off to a better start than the year it’s replacing.

After some post holiday dieting, the slimmer, sleeker MusicWatch will return in 2018, and don’t worry, in the meantime, ArtsWatch will have a few other music stories to tingle your ears as we bid a pffft! farewell to a troubled year. Meanwhile, here’s a new video from Oregon singer Marti Mendenhall to put you in the holiday mood.

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