leslie odom jr.

MusicWatch Weekly: hidden figures

This week's Oregon concerts include music unfairly consigned to the background

Best known as the premier exponent and explorer of the musical traditions of Byzantium and other early Christian music, Cappella Romana has recently branched out into other Orthodox Christian music descended from Byzantine origins, including Russian, Finnish, Ukrainian and more. You’re unlikely to hear any of this music performed anywhere else by anyone. Now the incomparable vocal ensemble shares its latest discovery: long lost Armenian Orthodox liturgical music.

In a concert directed by founding artistic director Alexander Lingas and Haig Utidjian, a British conductor of Armenian descent, they’ll sing traditional Armenian chants and later arrangements of them by 19th century Armenian choirmaster Makar Ekmalian and his student, Komitas Vardapet, regarded as the savior of Armenian music, who collected and transcribed thousands of works that would have otherwise been lost to history. It’s a chance to experience a lost world through music.
Thursday, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter St., Eugene; Saturday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch St, Portland; and Sunday, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave, Portland.

Edgar Meyer, here shown at Chamber Music Northwest, performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jim Leisy.

• Bassists usually lurk in the background onstage, but Edgar Meyer has turned his big acoustic bass into a lead instrument. One of the country’s most in-demand studio musicians, he’s scored a MacArthur “genius” grant, formed a popular ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and Bela Fleck named after his composition “Appalachia Waltz,” starred in bluegrass, classical, folk and country music recordings, and composed major orchestral works. Meyer joins the Oregon Symphony as soloist in his third double bass concerto, written in 2011, and he’ll be back this summer at Chamber Music Northwest. The concert also features an 1845 bass concerto by Italian composer Giovanni Bottesini, Aaron Copland’s ever-popular 1943 ballet score Appalachian Spring, and another tuneful, landmark 20th century work by the dean of African American composers: William Grant Still’s exhilarating 1930 Afro-American Symphony — a most welcome addition to an orchestral music scene still lacking demographic diversity.
Friday, Smith Hall, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performs with the Oregon Symphony.

• On Sunday, the orchestra backs Grammy- and Tony Award-winning show tune singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who er, shot to fame in the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, and parlayed it and his considerable vocal talent into a successful side career singing jazz and Broadway hits.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

• More welcome diversity distinguishes Oregon Sinfonietta’s free Sunday concert: a work by a female composer. British composer Ethel Smyth’s breakthrough, four-movement 1890 Serenade silenced many skeptics who wondered whether women had what it takes to write for orchestra. She went on to excel in opera and choral composition before her career was sadly shortened by deafness. The concert includes music by  Mozart, Debussy and Smyth’s English contemporary, George Butterworth, whose career was truncated even more tragically and abruptly by a German sniper’s bullet in World War I at age 31.
Sunday, Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church, 10501 SE Market St, Portland.

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