hub new music

Spontaneous Combustion reviews 1: from hub to sandbox

Two extraordinary young East Coast new music quartets light up the new music festival's first edition

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch deployed a small squadron of reviewers to most of the Spontaneous Combustion Festival’s seven programs spread over 17 concerts in three cities. Here are some of the highlights of the first edition of this valuable new addition to Oregon’s music scene. Read part two here.

Sandbox Percussion started their concert in January’s Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival with a bit of theatricality, the four percussionists emerging singly from backstage, each in turn adding his phasing rhythmic patterns to the ligneous melee of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood — performed, quite appropriately, on actual slabs of wood (rather than the usual tuned claves). The thing about a piece like this is that if you can just rip through it accurately, that’s really good enough to sell it for most listeners. Reich’s intentionally transparent, semi-automatic compositional process carries the work, and the sheer athleticism required to perform it is impressive enough that matters of interpretation are almost unnecessary.

But no, just as Sandbox insisted on using authentic instruments (can we call this a Historically Informed Performance?), these four decided to be insanely, obsessively precise down to the last little detail, executing unbelievably smooth level changes and cross-fades like a four-man mixing board. Their rhythmic intonation, so to speak, would make the whole city vibrate if a choir were doing it.

Sandbox Percussion performed in Portland’s Spontaneous Combustion Festival of New Music.

And yet within this strictness was a great deal of expressivity, even individual freedom (much like that imaginary choir we mentioned, which may as well be Hilliard Ensemble since that’s who we’re all imagining anyways). In Sandbox’s subtle, dynamic blend, “soloists” could pop out of the texture just with a shift in their posture; the Old Church’s sensitive acoustics are more than capable of picking up such tiny cues and broadcasting them all over the room, and the concentrated awe on the players faces told me they knew this perfectly well. These little solos, never obtrusive and always musical, made living music out of simple patterns and four planks. And that was just the opener.

It ended up being a whole evening of this sort of thing, uncommonly intimate percussion playing like we heard in this same venue nearly two years ago. It became clear that these four spend a lot of time working together and basking in the “simple joy of playing together.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: sizzlers and swashbucklers

A new new music festival erupts in Oregon, plus chamber music and live film scores enliven this week's concert scene

A hot new source of contemporary music has ignited in Oregon. Although, given the incendiary events of the summer and fall, its name might be a tad, er, heated for a West Coast music fest, Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival, which runs January 20-February 2 in Eugene, Portland and Seattle (with additional West Coast cities intended next year), includes major new music voices including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate, City of Tomorrow wind quintet, NYC’s Sandbox Percussion Quartet, and more. Saturday’s concert at Portland’s Old Church concert hall features Eugene’s own Delgani String Quartet, the state’s finest chamber ensemble, performing Portland native Lou Harrison’s majestic String Quartet Set, influenced by medieval Western European and Turkish music, among others; a quartet by the great 20th century avant garde composer György Ligeti; and a new composition by recent University of Oregon graduate Benjamin Krause, which you can read all about in Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch story. The busy Delganis also play Ligeti and Beethoven Sunday at Salem’s Prince of Peace Episcopal Church and next weekend in Eugene.

Delgani String Quartet performs in Portland and Salem.

On Monday at the Old Church and Tuesday at Eugene’s New Zone Gallery, Boston flutist Orlando Cela plays music by fellow flutist and contemporary American composer Robert Dick, the great Argentine nuevo tango composer Astor  Piazzolla, and more. Tuesday’s concert at the Old Church brings one of the most talked about younger contemporary classical ensembles, Boston’s Hub New Music, which plays music by Oregon-born, Wisconsin-based composer David Drexler, the premiere of a new half hour piece by Robert Honstein, and a composition by erstwhile Seattleite Laura Kaminsky, whose music we last encountered in Portland  a couple years back. We’ll tell you all about the remaining concerts in this exciting new series created by Cascadia Composer and new Portlander Scott Anthony Shell in upcoming MusicWatches.

Portland Mini Musical Festival returns to Fertile Ground this weekend.

Speaking of new artistic creations, as you’ve been reading all over ArtsWatch, one of Oregon’ most valuable artistic incubators, the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, is back, and at least one of those, Mini Musicals 2018, running thrice at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre this weekend, is of special interest to music fans like all of you. We sure liked last year’s edition.

Last weekend, the Oregon Symphony gave a dazzling performance of Stravinsky’s immortal The Rite of Spring accompanied by newly created visuals tailored to the century old music. (Stay tuned for our review.) This weekend, it reverses the process. Although neither Keith Richards nor Johnny Depp is scheduled to appear, the Oregon Symphony and Pacific Youth Choir play Hans Zimmer’s score to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to accompany a screening of the film.

Douglas Fairbanks swashes his buckles in “The Mark of Zorro,” accompanied by musicians from Vancouver Symphony.

More swashbuckling original music accompanies the Vancouver Symphony’s Chamber Music Series screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s spectacular adventure flick The Mark of Zorro Sunday at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre. The original score by Colorado based composer/conductor/silent film score specialist Rodney Sauer features members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Check MusicWatch next week for info about an even more exciting silent film score screening and live performance.

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