Joe Cantrell

Classical Up Close 9: A wet finale

The company of elite musicians closes its two-week festival of human-scaled outdoors concerts on a high note – and in the rain

Classical Up Close‘s June festival of free outdoor concerts wrapped up in style on Monday with one violin, two violas, one cello, one bass, one clarinet, two horns, one bassoon, three chamber compositions, and several buckets of rain.

The festival had been playing peekaboo with the rainclouds for several days, but had managed to duck all but a few drops. At Monday’s festival finale, at noon along the east bank of the Willamette River in Milwaukie, music and weather finally bumped into each other for real. The clouds burst, and the rain came tumbling fast and furious.

In their element in the elements: Classical Up Close’s performers make music amid the cloudburst in Monday’s final concert in the 14-show outdoor series. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Well, maybe not that fast and furious. “It was a light rain,” violinist Sarah Kwak, the executive director of Classical Up Close and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, said on Tuesday. “The skies didn’t get dark and ominous. It was a summer rain.”

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Classical Up Close 4: High on a hill

From high up in Oregon City, an open-air concert lifts spirits with the sounds of Brahms and Strauss and the young percussion composer Andy Akiho

Violinist Chien Tan: when the movement gets swift, the swift get moving. Photo: Joe Cantrell

“I want to take you higher,” Sly and the Family Stone sang way back in 1969, and on Friday night that’s just what Classical Up Close did, ascending the appropriately named Hilltop Road in Oregon City and, on a wide expanse of open lawn amid swing sets and trees, playing the heart out of some sextets by Brahms and Strauss and a quartet of contemporary percussion pieces by the young composer Andy Akiho, who was also one of the musicians, playing steel pan. It was enough to make you want to lift up your eyes unto the hills – and if you had, you’d’ve seen Mt. Hood looming bright and clear to the east.

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The race is on. Ready for live events?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Ready or not, things are opening. Plus Lillian Pitt & Friends, opera breaks the mold, movie time, poetry all over

THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.

Young blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, had the crowd roaring at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival. The festival, a Portland July 4 Weekend tradition, was canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions but will return in July 2021 at the new Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its usual sprawling location on the downtown waterfront. This year’s acts have not yet been announced, and crowd size will be controlled. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.

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Looking Back 2020: Reports from the orchestra seats

A review of our favorite ArtsWatch music stories from The Longest Year in History

What the hell happened this year?


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


To begin, I’d like to share a bit of MTV Generation perspective with my younger readers, those who may have never known (for instance) a pre-9/11 world. When everything shut down this spring and it all started getting extra weird, I sat dazed in my kitchen, staring out on empty streets and clear skies, and decided to ask around–how much weirder is this than 2001-03? Or, to go a bit further back, how much weirder than “the end of history” in 1989-91, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed and tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and Iraq and Panama, and the New Cold War started?

Naomi Klein will tell you that a disoriented state of helpless confusion is exactly the point of such times (“shock and awe” indeed), while Rebecca Solnit continues to remind us that these times are also opportunities for human communities to come together in solidarity and mutual aid. But regardless of catastrophe’s many and varied uses, it’s mainly just exhausting for us normal humans who must suffer history (and its end) in our daily lives.

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Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.

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A joyful front-yard noise

Concert hall? Who needs a concert hall? A classical combo puts on a show in the neighborhood – and rocks out in the process


PHOTOS AND STORY BY JOE CANTRELL


Editor’s note: The thing about music is, people do it together. The thing about Our Current Reality is, people are apart. No concert halls open = no concerts. No matter how much musicians want to get together and make music, social distancing and the long arm of state restrictions say no. And no matter how much audiences want to hear their favorite musicians playing in real time and real space, simple logistics say, not now.

What are they going to do? Put on a concert in the front yard?

Well, yes.

That’s exactly what a select group of prominent Portland musicians of the classical persuasion, tired of hanging around doing études and scales in their parlors and basements, did on Saturday afternoon along a Northeast Portland residential street, with an equally select audience of friends and neighbors and the odd cat or dog or big stuffed teddy bear in a red wagon.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was among the crowd, and along with the photos below filed this report to ArtsWatch, in an email prominently headed THE TALE WAGNER DOGS, or A FRONT YARD CONCERT IN NEPDX:

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“Punsters gotta pun: Seems like there’s another Götterdämmerung around every corner these days, but this was in the middle of the perfect suburban block, far from the corners and farther from destruction. It was the opposite: talented generous people coming as together as the Centers for Disease Control allows to make fun music and be healed, or at least relieved. And as one who went there feeling bleak and disheartened but left joyful, yr fthfl srvnt confirms it worked.

“Five months ago, as the novel coronavirus’ damage spread, the Oregon Symphony canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 live performances; people could not sit side by side in the Schnitz until the disease abated. In response, individual members of the symphony gave seven solo or ensemble performances in their yards, sometimes from their porches. These recitals were quickly put together and publicized only in localized areas to avoid crowding and potential spread of COVID-19. One of those performances was in a particularly homey Northeast Portland neighborhood where two violinists and a trombonist put on a gem for their neighbors. There have been sporadic, scattered individual performances since then, but not many. However, in the words of the immortal cellist Nancy Ives, ‘Performers gotta perform.’

“So this Saturday afternoon, five friends got together again to play music probably/possibly* written before they were born, except this wasn’t Haydn and Vivaldi. It was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, sort of Blues, and some kindy country sangin’ that had been composed by the musicians themselves. No amps, no electricity involved except that which bound them and the assembled-at-masked-distance neighborhood in the magical charge that music brings. They said they were going to play 45 minutes, topped an hour, and the audience demanded and got an encore. Bravo to all: the smiling eyes above the masks showed that as unanimous.

“*Rough estimate by a geezer in attendance, but they all looked like kids to him.”

“Cat, a tonic sitting in the picture window next door watching unusual human behavior. She requested Alice in Chains but we told her Alice was occupied elsewhere in a nap.”

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The Cherokee lens, up close

Photographer Joe Cantrell's micro-images blend art and science to pierce time and geology and discover secrets of the shape of things

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of ArtsWatch’s contributing writers and photographers are themselves artists. Joe Cantrell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who spent 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, has photographed subjects and celebrations for ArtsWatch ranging from the Waterfront Blues Festival to backstage stories about the opera to classical-music performances ranging from concert halls to musicians’ front porches, as well as chalk art festivals and the immigrant-culture celebrations of Beaverton Market. For several years he’s been working on two special projects of his own, photographing the interior structures of pictographs and exploring the microstructures of geological time in rocks and fossils. For both projects he calls on his Cherokee tradition of viewing the universe.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


Cherokee tradition embraces outside technology and methods when we think they will be useful. One of the best examples of that was Sequoyah’s remarkable feat of single-handedly developing his syllabary. Sequoyah was one of only a handful of geniuses in human history who have single-handedly invented a written language for their people. It was so effective and easy to learn that illiterate Cherokees could become literate in one week! Compare that to the amount of time and energy we spend to learn English, folks, and the sad state of the language in spite of it.

Growing up in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, the name Sequoyah surrounded us from the Sequoyah Theater to the “Indian Training School,” as it was known then, to the grade school. He became a part of who we were and would be. Even in my mid 70s, he still is. So as my photography has evolved since they sent me to the Tahlequah High School darkroom, September of 1960, it was natural that Sequoyah’s influence would follow.

I am perplexed by the fact that to meet a popular concept of “real Indians,” the Cherokees back in the Smoky Mountains apparently must emulate Plains Indians, the ones who John Wayne and other show-biz white guys could kill with one pistol shot from a running horse. Last time I was at the Cherokee Holiday Parade down Main Street, Tahlequah, our Principal Chief and Tribal Council wore big eagle feather headdresses. I don’t recall ever seeing a Cherokee man wear a turban, our real traditional head covering, as Sequoyah did.

This image, photographed from a fossil at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals, in Hillsboro, is from a piece of “the oldest precursors of life, 3.4 billion year old stromatolites,” Cantrell says. “These were prokaryotic, meaning single cells with no nucleus, and were the state of life for about 1.7 billion years in the Precambrian era. They gained nuclei, and with that the ability to adapt and mutate, about 1.7 billion years ago.”

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