Guido López-Gavilán

FearNoMusic/Cascadia Composers review: unbounded creativity

Music by contemporary classical Cuban composers displays sophisticated combinations of traditional influences and a distinctive sense of time

By CHRISTINA RUSNAK

American audiences embrace the dynamic rhythms and energy of Cuban jazz, with its variety of instrumentation and diverse percussion. But we are much less familiar, ignorant even, of the “classical” music tradition of the Cuban people through the 20th century into the 21st.

This limited view reflects Americans wider misperceptions of Cuba, which accentuates the country’s isolation, impoverished state, and personal restrictions. Images of antiquated cars and crumbling buildings mistakenly give some people the idea that a place with such difficult living conditions would be creatively limited.

FearNoMusic’s string quarter performed in Cascadia Composers’ ‘New Pearls from the Antilles’ concert. Photo: Matias Brecher.

FearNoMusic’s May 19 concert at Northeast Portland’s Temple Baptist Church, presented by Cascadia Composers, challenged such assumptions. And it even featured a distinctive musical element I miss in too many contemporary classical music concerts.

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Cascadia Composers preview: From Cascadia to Cuba… and back

Culminating a cultural and musical exchange, weekend concerts feature contemporary music by composers from Oregon and Cuba

In July 2015, when President Obama announced that the United States would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, Portland composer David Bernstein thought about music. Not the usual suspects when talking about one of the Western hemisphere’s most important musical traditions — jazz, Buena Vista Social Club, Desi Arnaz — but contemporary classical music.

It was a natural for Bernstein, who’d helped found Cascadia Composers almost a decade ago to provide performance, promotion, networking and other opportunities for composers in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, the organization had become one of the nation’s largest (60 members) and most successful, staging dozens of concerts featuring over 300 homegrown compositions in Portland and Eugene.

Cascadia Composers (l-r) Ted Clifford, Paul Safar, David Bernstein, Jennifer Wright, Dan Brugh in Havana last November. Photo: Nadia Reyes.

But they’d never attempted anything as ambitious as what Bernstein had in mind: sending Oregon composers to Cuba to have their music performed by Cuban musicians, and reciprocating with a Portland concert featuring American musicians playing works by today’s Cuban composers. Neither had anyone else.

“I’d known music of some Cuban composers like Leo Brouwer,” Bernstein explains. “I’d hear it played at various contemporary music festivals. I wanted to get to know what it was like now, and I wanted to get to know them.”

FearNoMusic performs music from Cuba on Friday.

This Friday, Bernstein’s vision becomes reality when Cascadia enlists the veteran Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic to perform eight pieces by leading Cuban composers, with two in attendance, at its “New Pearls from the Antilles” concert. The following evening, they’ll hear new music inspired by Oregon at a second Cascadia Composers concert.

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