gregory ewer

45th Parallel review: Critical approach

Converting criticism into collaborative programming, concert features several generations of American composers, including contemporary Oregonians

by TERRY ROSS

If there were any doubt that music reviewers can influence the programming of classical concerts, that contention was put to rest, at least temporarily, on Wednesday night, March 29, in the latest concert of the Portland ensemble 45th Parallel. Reviewing one of the group’s earlier concerts from 2015, a young composer from Salem called Tristan Bliss (b. 1993) had attacked the program of 20th-century music as being uninterestingly composed of late Romantic pieces. Mr. Bliss went so far as to accuse Oregon composer Kenji Bunch of being merely part of a hidebound music establishment, and the ensemble as being afraid of truly new music and dedicated to consigning it to oblivion by not programming it.

45th Parallel performed Tristan Bliss’s ‘Requiem for a Tradition.’ Photo: Joe Cantrell.

This review rankled, needless to say, and 45th Parallel leader Gregory Ewer responded angrily online. A brief brouhaha ensued, with the result that Ewer invited Bliss to collaborate in planning a 45th Parallel concert. Bliss accepted and suggested five pieces, all written in the past three years, with the exception of perennial renegade Charles Ives’s piano quintet Hallowe’en, written way back in 1906 but sounding thoroughly contemporary. Ewer added three other selections, the earliest from 1988, and voilà! A concert was born.

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A stylish new Baroque CD from Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte

The duet play Jean-Marie LeClair's sonatas for two violins plus a Sherrie Wolf museum show and an anti-bully play winner

For several years Greg Ewer, Oregon Symphony violinist AND driving force behind the chamber music group 45th Parallel, and Adam LaMotte of the Portland Baroque Orchestra have been working on a two-CD set of Jean-Marie LeClair’s Complete Sonatas for Two Violins. Today, they are releasing that music in high definition on PureAudio Blu-ray.

LeClair is best known for bringing Italian-level violin technique to France and for his violin compositions, which by “weaving together elements of Italian and French music, he created an entirely new compositional style. His duos influenced later composers such as Mozart, de Beriot, Viotti, and closer to our own time, Bartok and Berio,” according to publisher Sono Luminus. I happen to be listening to Ewer and LaMotte playing LeClair right now, and it’s delightful, and yes, the spirit, intelligence, and joy of Mozart, say, emerges almost immediately. It’s easy to see what attracted Ewer and LaMotte to this under-recorded Baroque music.

Ewer and LaMotte met many years ago in Houston, Texas. Here’s how Ewer described it on Facebook:

Back in the mid-1980’s in Houston, I rode the bus to middle school with a class clown by the name of Adam LaMotte. It was a rough and tumble school, so probably in the interest of self-preservation, neither one of us ever mentioned the fact…that we were students of the violin. We would only discover it upon showing up at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts with violin cases in hand, totally bewildered that this commonality had never come up in conversation.

Fast forward almost 30 years, and both of us are now living in Portland, Oregon, collaborating and performing together on almost a weekly basis. In 2001, our search for great music for two violins led us to discover the Duo Sonatas of Jean-Marie Leclair, two sets of little-known gems by this great French Baroque composer. We are proud to announce the release of a landmark recording of these 12 incredible pieces of music, available for the first time as a complete set and in high-definition on PureAudio Blu-ray. Leclair’s contribution to music history cannot be overstated, and neither can our excitement about this project! We hope you’ll be inspired to pick up a copy of our new two-CD set from Sono Luminus.

This is the sort of musical collaboration that I love—from the heart, sustained over a long period of time, beautifully played and recorded.

Speaking of Baroque, Portland painter Sherrie Wolf exhibition Baroque Sensibilities opens at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California April 3 through June 15.

Sherrie Wolf, "Still Life With Puget Sound"/Laura Russo Gallery

Sherrie Wolf, “Still Life With Puget Sound”/Laura Russo Gallery

Chloe Rust, whose play Bullies Anonymous was a finalist in Oregon Children Theatre’s Bully Project last year, did even better on the national stage: The play was named the runner-up in the national Dramatic Change: Anti-Bullying Initiative competition.

The national competition was sparked by OCT’s original idea, and artistic director Stan Foote and Michael Bobbitt (of Adventure Theatre, Baltimore) decided to try to expand it nationally. They found partners at Theatre for Young Audiences USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and the Dramatic Change/Young Playwrights for Change. And Rust, who is an 8th grader at Lakeridge Junior High in Lake Oswego, entered.

This year, round two of the project is already under way. Six finalists were selected to work with professional playwrights Matthew B. Zrebski and Debbie Lamedman of Playwrights West to revise and craft their scripts in a workshop setting. The final scripts will be featured at a public staged reading at 5 p.m. May 11, the Winningstad Theatre, and members of OCT’s Young Professionals program will direct and perform the six plays. The six finalists in the OCT contest this year include Rust, Mariana Penaloza-Vu, Kendall Uslan, Hannah Bachman, Lizzie O’Mahony, and Pablo Reese. The winners will be announced on May 1st.

“We love this project because it gives kids a voice about issues that are real and immediate to them,” OCT Artistic Director Foote said. “Plus, it offers young writers a chance to work with professionals to hone their craft.”

News & Notes: Defending my homie

Brett Campbell suggests shorter classical music concerts; world comes to an end

Beaverton's iSing chorus used video in its winter concert.

Beaverton’s iSing chorus used video in its winter concert.

ArtsWatch classical music critic Brett Campbell is perfectly capable of defending both himself and his arguments after he posted his roundup of reviews of holiday season concerts a couple of days ago, “MusicWatch reviews: Less is more.”

But because his primary contention seems to have hit a nerve in the music community, maybe I can help him out a little, by providing a little more context for his primary suggestion.

In case you didn’t read his post (and you should, it navigates a LOT of music, some of it beautifully played), Brett argues that music directors often stuff their programs too full of music,  to the detriment of the both the audience and the music itself. In doing so, he addressed the processes that go into making a concert a little bit, specifically the amount of rehearsal necessary to prepare a complicated piece of music for the public. And he considered the capacity of the audience to digest large chunks of that complicated music.

I’m not sure why some of the responses to his post were angry ones. Maybe the commenters think that both of those subjects should be off-limits to the critic, even though they are critical to the experience of the audience (and the musicians, if you think about it).

But with the performing arts in general and classical music in particular, we’ve reached a point of dwindling resources and shrinking audiences. And perhaps it’s time to begin to re-consider our processes and experiences. Strike that “perhaps.” It IS time.

And in any case, Brett’s arguments don’t come completely out of the blue. Artists and arts administrators are thinking about them in other places, and some have even begun to experiment with new models. Maybe classical music has resisted that experimentation more than most other forms. (And maybe strike that “maybe”?)

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