lou harrison

Portland, protests, the theater of life

ArtsWatch Weekly: The theater of politics comes to town, and the city's center stage. Plus: polka-dot square, Black & classical, a big gift.

FRUSTRATED BECAUSE THERE’S NO THEATER TO SEE FOR THE CORONADURATION? Look around. The show’s running 24/7, and we’re in the middle of it – unlikely stars of the Show of the Moment, praised and panned for our performances, from the pages of The New York Times to the breathless patter of cable-television talking heads to the bombastic Twitter feeds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Boffo! A bomb! Lurid, violent spectacle! A bracing warning for us all! Shocking demolition of the fourth wall! Strains credibility! Nonstop action! Predictable performances in a shoddy script! Oughtta be in jail!

Everybody’s a critic in the Theater of Real Life. In the past week Portland’s been getting more national and international attention than it’s had since the heyday of Portlandia jokes (no, you put a bird on it!), and it’s hard to tell whether this new show – let’s call it “The Siege of Portland!” – is tragedy, documentary, or farce. However it all plays out, we’re like a city full of Beckett characters, caught in a world far bigger than we can comprehend, stumbling through the confusion toward a conclusion that we can’t predict.

You know the basic plot. It begins, after a preamble that traces a complex but necessary 400-year backstory, with the deaths at police hands of a seemingly endless string of Black Americans: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown – the list goes on and on. This is the moral heart of the story, the unshakable truth that cannot be denied. Add a pandemic, an economic calamity, a historic shift of wealth from bottom to top, two months of nightly protests, a profusion of graffiti and torn-down fences (“Shocking!” “Criminal!” “Not to be believed!”), a trip-wired political standoff, a president with diving poll numbers in an election year, a steady supply of tear gas, “non-lethal” bullets, smashed heads, and broken bones – who’s writing this script? The guy who wrote the Book of Job? Then add an invading force of militarized mystery federal police, upping the ante on everything, bullying into a story where they weren’t invited and are not wanted. Tighten the tension with a Wall of Moms, some Leaf Blower Dads, and an explosion of new and angry protesters filling the stage like essential extras in a spectacle about the French Revolution.
 

Besides presenting a united front and sometimes being tear-gassed, flash-banged, roughed up, and arrested, the “Wall of Moms” at the re-energized protests in downtown Portland have shown a flair for the moment, making theatrical counter-statements of their own. Photo: Deborah Dombrowski

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Safe Distance Sounds 3: Oregon voices

Recent recordings by Cappella Romana, the Broken Consort, Portland State University Chamber Choir and The Industry showcase Oregon choral and vocal music

Of all the music we’re missing in these days of suspended live performances, perhaps the most missed — and most lethal — is choral music. One of the first major outbreaks of Covid 19, after all, derived from a Northwest choir rehearsal, and every choral performance involves slinging a lot of breath and its hangers-on droplets around a stage.

And yet, choral music is to many of us the most life-giving music. Not just because it directly involves the breath — the same breath the virus threatens — but also because it combines musical and verbal communication. Even when we don’t even understand the language being sung, many of us crave the sound of the live human voice, especially when many of us are denied it during the lockdown when, sadly, we’re denied it. And it may be some time before we can hear it again live. Although, lots of folks are trying new things.

So, to continue our series of reviews of recent recordings of Oregon music (earlier installments covered jazz/improvised and chamber music), here are some choral, vocal and opera recordings that might help assuage the loss of live performances. For more Oregon voices on record, check ArtsWatch’s recent archives for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch reviews of recent albums by Oregon Repertory Singers and In Mulieribus.

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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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ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

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A dozen great reads from 2017

From a Lewis Carroll lark to a rambling Road Dog to a play about a baby to art out of ocean garbage, twelve ArtsWatch stories not to miss

A dance critic walks into an art show. A man and his dog travel the byroads of America. A pop song sinks into a writer’s soul. A jazz pianist walks into the wilderness. A play about a baby strikes a theater reviewer close to home. On the southern Oregon coast, artists make huge sculptures from the detritus that chokes the sea.

We run a lot of stories on a lot of subjects at Oregon ArtsWatch – more than 500 in 2017 alone – and a few stand out simply as stories that want to be told. Put together a good writer and a good subject and chances are you’ll get a memorable tale. Here are a dozen such stories from 2017.

 


 

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A look back at a dozen stories from 2017 you won’t want to miss:

 

Matthew Kerrigan reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, with a fleeting attention span ruled by a smartphone.

We’re all mad here … so let’s party

Jan. 31: “What do you do with your existential frustration? If you boil it down into its purest form, you get either despair or rage—which then has to be dealt with. But if you chill it out and mix in some humor, you end up with absurdity. And that can be played with! O Frabjous Day!” A.L. Adams got down in the existential trenches with Shaking the Tree’s We’re All Mad Here, a piece performed and largely conceived by Matthew Kerrigan in homage to the great absurdist Lewis Carroll. “Any drug-addled dodo could dream up a different world, but that wasn’t the crux of Carroll’s vision. Like his forebears Aesop and Chaucer and Jonathan ‘Gulliver’ Swift, Carroll was a satirist as well as a fabulist.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Solstice!

Here comes summer. Here comes summer art. Take off your shoes, put on your swimsuit, and dive right in.

Raise a glass, if you’re of a mind, to summer, which according to the wise old heads of The Old Farmer’s Almanac officially begins at 9:24 Pacific Daylight Time this evening – Tuesday, June 20. If you’re reading this on the East Coast you’ll need to wait until 12:24 on Wednesday morning for the solstice to kick in.

That makes it high time to start thinking about summer arts, too.

The eclectic Siletz Bay Music Festival in and around Lincoln City on the Oregon coast opens Wednesday with some Mendelssohn and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and continues through July 4 with concerts ranging from classics to rock violin to swing jazz and cabaret.

Chamber Music Northwest kicks off its summer season in Portland on Monday evening, June 26, with a program of music by Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach (plus a little Bach), and continues through July 30. The opener’s a good introduction to this year’s celebration of women composers – and that ties in neatly to Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s swiftly approaching program of free performances June 29-30 in the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater, featuring works by three women choreographers. For a deeper look, see Jamuna Chiarini’s interview with Helen Simoneau, one of the three, in DanceWatch Weekly.

Falstaff (K. T. Vogt) bemoans his difficulties wooing Mistresses Ford and Page, unaware that he’s speaking to Master Ford (Rex Young) in disguise. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The granddaddy of Oregon summer festivals, Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, continues full steam ahead through October with eleven plays moving in and out of repertory during the season. Sir John Falstaff, that great gross night, makes a big splash, making appearances in all three plays in which he’s a character. For more on that, read Suzi Steffen’s Five questions for the Falstaffs, an interview with festival actors K.T. Vogt and G. Valmont Thomas, who between them cover all of the big guy’s bases.

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CeLOUbration preview: Lou Harrison’s Portland origins

PSU throws a 100th birthday party for Oregon's greatest composer featuring Harrison's chamber, gamelan, and percussion music and new music by Oregon composers, plus a free academic salon

One of the 20th century’s greatest composers, Lou Harrison (1917-2003) pioneered alluring fusions of Asian and Western classical music as well as creating a startling variety of sounds and helping restore danceable melody to classical music over a seven decade career. That journey began with his birth in Portland, where the young Harrison discovered the Asian art that would inspire his rich creative career. This weekend — appropriately during Pride Week, as he was early on one of America’s out-est and proudest gay composers and worked for equal rights — Portland State University celebrates Harrison’s centennial in three concerts, a musical salon and academic symposium. See below for more details.

This excerpt adapted from the new biography, Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press) by California composer and music professor Bill Alves and me describes Harrison’s Portland beginnings. Read more about Harrison’s lifelong Oregon connections here

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Whenever Lou Harrison came home, it was like stepping into another culture. From as early in childhood as he could remember, wherever he looked in his family’s apartment in Portland, Oregon’s Silver Court Apartments, young Lou saw colorful paintings from various Asian cultures mounted on walls covered by Japanese grass wallpaper. Chinese carved teak furniture perched on Persian rugs, colorful Japanese lanterns dangled from the ceiling, cloisonné objects filled the mantel, and the rooms boasted other artifacts from Asia and the Middle East. Compared to the prosaic furnishings and fixtures of the rest of the young Harrison’s post-World War I Pacific Northwest life, his home was an almost magical place.

The exotic decor sprang from the ambitions of his mother. Born in Seattle in 1890, Calline Silver grew up in the Alaskan frontier with her sister, Lounette. Despite these rough circumstances, their father saw to it that both girls had music lessons, at a time when music was an important marker of good breeding and refinement for young women. After her father died and Cal raised herself from this rustic beginning to a middle-class ideal, she became a woman of strong will and determination, qualities that her son would inherit. She married affable, fair-skinned Clarence Harrison, a first-generation American born in 1882, whose Norwegian father had, like many immigrants, changed his surname from exotic (de Nësja) to blend-in conventional: Harrison.

Like many upwardly mobile West Coasters, Cal Harrison was attracted to the allure of Asia and regarded exotic artifacts as exemplars of refined taste. Such decorations were common in Portland homes since the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair. Japan alone spent a million dollars on its exhibit, which featured exotic (to American eyes) arts and crafts, sparking a local infatuation with Asian art and culture. Many middle- and upper-class houses boasted “Oriental Rooms” festooned with Asian and Middle Eastern furniture and art, “Turkish corners,” and other symbols of what many Americans still regarded as the mysterious East.

That Pacific exoticism also manifested in music. When Lou was born on May 14, 1917, Hawaiian music was the most popular genre in America. Radio broadcasts of Hawaiian slide guitars and the clacks of his mother’s mah-jongg tiles supplied the soundtrack to some of his earliest memories—and inspired one of his last compositions eight decades later.

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