John Muehleisen

ACDA Conference: choral camaraderie

Convocation of choral excellence in Portland features diverse music and a strong bracket, but ignores larger community

by BRUCE BROWNE

Think of it as March Madness. No rankings, no betting on outcomes, but this (approximately) “Sweet 16” of choirs from all over the Northwest who converged in Portland last month for the Northwest Regional American Choral Directors conference was no less a bunch of winning teams.

Like the storied Dukes, Kentuckies, and UConns, our representative choirs consisted, too, of nationally known programs of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. Pacific Lutheran University, directed by Richard Nance, for example, has been a choral face on the national scene for some 50 years, since the great Maurice Skones put it on the map. The Marian singers of St. Mary’s Catholic School in Portland have established themselves as leaders in their school division. But there were some new kids on the block as well — University of Wyoming Women’s Choir and Graham-Kapowsin high school from Bethel, Washington.

St. Mary’s Academy Women’s Choir performed at the ACDA conference in Portland. Photo: Howard Meharg.

Middle school through college choirs and community choirs are selected to participate through a blind submission process in various categories including higher and lower voices, youth and adult. The quality demonstrated at concerts and workshops was a great testimony to choral education programs’ keeping the art alive. Only the aforementioned Marian Singers and Portland State University choirs represented the hometown scene. Three Salem choral programs did make the trip.

More Gown than Town

Although the ACDA conference is geared toward the professional conductor/singer – mostly in education – most of these concerts would have been very attractive to the choral aficionados of Portland and environs; this is a strong choral town. The public is welcome to these concerts but they may not know they are. Sadly, I saw very few, if any, non-ACDA members at these concerts. Perhaps ACDA leadership can explore this for future gatherings.

Those who did attend were rewarded with a wide variety of choral music. There were the standard classic composers: Monteverdi, Jannequin; Debussy; Rheinberger. Contemporary composers: Seattle’s John Muehleisen, Alberto Ginastera, Maryam Sameer Faheem Khoury, Portland’s Joan Szymko, Jaakko Montyjarvi, Libby Larsen. There were many different cultural flavors: Estonian; Japanese; Sami, Inuit.

Following is a roundup of as many choirs as I could hear in the four-day period. It was not possible to hear all the presentations at one convention, so the omission of a choir or conductor is no sign of their not being worthy of mention on another occasion.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Pacific voices

Choral concerts featuring contemporary sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is hosting the Beijing Queer Chorus — China’s first LGBTQ choir — in a week-long community residency that culminates in a pair of public concerts.

Beijing Queer Chorus performs Friday and Saturday at Reed College.

Friday and Saturday’s Pacific Voices shows at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium feature both original and traditional music from across the Pacific region, including Mexico, Ecuador, New Zealand (a Maori traditional song), Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, the Philippines, a Taiwanese aboriginal tune, and of course songs from China and Oregon. PGMC will return the favor with a tour of China this summer.

Another choral tradition comes to Oregon with Cappella Romana’s performances of The Akáthistos Hymn Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. Composed for the fine Portland vocal ensemble, British composer/priest/conductor Ivan Moody’s 1998 setting of the ancient poem to the virgin Mary (which he’s coming from London to conduct here) combines Byzantine chant melodies, Russian choral textures, and original tunes in a solemn, soaring and ultimately rousing rendition.

The Oregon Chorale celebrates home and family in its concerts in Beaverton Saturday and Hillsboro on Sunday. The contemporary choral program includes Eat Your Vegetables, a fun three-movement piece (one titled “Aversion to Carrots”) by Seattle composer John Muehleisen, whose music is getting a lot of Oregon play lately, plus other contemporary music by Eric Whitacre, Lee Hoiby, Sydney Guillaume, Dan Forrest and more.

The premiere of Muehleisen’s Pleaides’ Path highlights Consonare Chorale’s St. Paddy’s day concert at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny St. Along with the Seattle composer’s new setting of a text by Consonare music director Georgina Philippson, the program does include the obligatory Irish reference (“Little Potato”), as well as The Peace of Wild Things (composed Jake Runestad, one of today’s hottest choral composers, whom you’ll be hearing more about here shortly), works by an Estonian composer named Pärt — no, not that one, but Pärt Uusberg — and more.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Whitacre’s music, along with compositions by Northwest native Morten Lauridsen, the late American composer David Maslanka, Williametta Spencer and more at Clark College Concert Band and Concert Choir’s free concert Saturday at the college. On Wednesday, the college orchestra’s concert features one of the area’s finest singers, Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson, in Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling, plus music by Darius Milhaud, Paul Dukas, Rossini and more.

Symphonic Sounds

Speaking of symphonic music, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays a new Concerto for Chamber Orchestra by the winner of this year’s winner of PCSO/Cascadia Composers Composition Competition, Sean Osborn. The concerts, Friday at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Sunday at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theatre, also include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor with soloist Sara Davis Buechner.

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