Mattie Kaiser

Good Fellas

There's a new music mafia in Oregon: meet the godfathers

By MARIA CHOBAN

I dragged myself to my first Cascadia Composers concert on a rainy November night in 2010, tired after a full day of teaching. David Bernstein greeted the audience with a welcome speech pleading with us to take pity on composers – so little respected and liked anymore.

I rolled my eyes. Who’s to blame for composers not being well respected or liked anymore? Could it possibly be. . . . THEY are to blame? For having subjected us for half of the 20th century to sudoku math puzzles or chance games masquerading as music? They called it the Modernist era, after the fact. I call it bullshit. Moreover, the music at that first CC concert sucked, the performances sucked and I stalked home in a bad mood.

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Founder Mattie Kaiser toasts the revolution at CRPDX's fifth anniversary bash.

Founder Mattie Kaiser toasts the revolution at CRPDX’s fifth anniversary bash.

When I first met Mattie Kaiser, she looked haggard. Sitting on a barstool at the Waypost, the founder of Classical Revolution PDX, an indie classical music organization founded for those who defined classical music as something larger than the pin-point of anything old and academic, she was waiting for one of its early-on chamber jams to be over so she could go home and sleep.

Kaiser would also have been easy to underestimate. In these early days of CRPDX, after they’d switched from infrequent jams announced well in advance (at various venues like Red & Black Cafe, Costello’s, Someday Lounge, the Woods) to weekly sessions at The Waypost in northeast Portland circa 2011, there were nights when it was just Mattie who held down the fort, playing solo Bach on her viola to no one in the room. Hard to believe from a personality so charismatic, from someone who understands the importance of physical appearances (and she is beautiful!), from what seems like a performer with a natural ability to draw an audience. Obviously it takes more and as I would soon discover, in Kaiser the tenacity is there.

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Enter Bob Priest, impresario of music festival March Music Moderne. We too started off on the wrong foot. I completely misunderstood his mission, having been completely seduced by the title of the first of his two concerts in his then-weekend festival: “Almost Nothing Like Purple Haze.” He assured me that that 2011 weekend concert series was a one-off, explaining that he was too tired and too burned out from having done this sort of thing in his distant past with disastrous consequences to his health, I nodded disingenuously in false agreement, secretly plotting how to get him to meet me for coffee so I could cajole him into presenting another year of expanded MMM festspielnalia.

Turns out it wasn’t hard. Priest is a festival creator addict. He had been taking notes on his yellow legal pad while waiting for me to show up. Full of ideas, exuberant, clearly in the throes of his high, he left me in the dust – something I’m not used to. Priest knew exactly what he wanted: Modernism! I detest it because of its academic elitist attitude and its misconceived perception that music is made minus feeling or choice.

I knew exactly what I wanted from Bob: a one-month long festival in March, feting up-to-the minute music with up-to-the-minute fresh professional presentations, something that could be marketed as a Portland tourist attraction in our least attractive tourist season. And never the two shall meet, or so I imagined after this fireworks first meeting.

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Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic's Young Composers Project

Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project

If you’d been reading ArtsWatch’s Facebook page over the past week or two, you’d have noticed early reports about awards for Helmuth Rilling, international journeys for the PSU chamber choir and UO chamber choir, Portland Piano international’s new schedule and much more. ArtsWatch regularly breaks news about the burgeoning Oregon arts scene on Facebook. We also occasionally round up shorter tidbits in these News &Notes dispatches. Here’s some items about arrivals and departures in Oregon music. And stay tuned – we have more news coming soon about another impending big move in Oregon classical music.

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The "Mattie Takes Manhattan" party at The Waypost gave Kaiser a chance to bid Classical Revolution a fond farewell.

The “Mattie Takes Manhattan” party at The Waypost gave Kaiser a chance to bid Classical Revolution a fond farewell. photographer: Gary Stallsworth

Last Friday, Classical Revolution stomping-grounds The Waypost hosted “Mattie Takes Manhattan,” an exuberant sendoff for violist and “fearless leader” Mattie Kaiser. During the evening’s karaoke, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” became “Our Hearts Belong to Mattie”. Sporting a too-sexy-for-symphony off-shoulder black dress and swearing like a sailor through her many farewell speeches, the irreverently passionate woman of the hour said goodbye—for now—to Classical Revolution PDX, the first offshoot of the original Classical Revolution (SF) that she founded in 2006 and quickly grew to 300-odd members under the mission statement:

“We love classical music.

We love playing classical music.

We love listening to classical music.

We are tired of the elitist and inaccessible nature of the classical world.

We believe that there are many that would enjoy classical music if they could access it in a setting that is comfortable for them.

We believe classical musicians should be allowed to perform in a setting that is more casual – where the audience is allowed to have a drink, eat a scone, laugh a little, and clap a lot.

We believe everyone can enjoy the music that we love.”

The Itinerary

Yesterday, Mattie departed for Bloomington, Indiana, where she’ll serve a two-day stint as Indiana University’s entrepreneur-in-residence, hopefully inspiring students to start their own Classical Revolution chapter. Then she’s on to Classical Revolution Chicago for a concert featuring young Egyptian composers who’ve created new work in response to the Arab Spring.

Next week, she’ll arrive in Manhattan—and immediately catch Icelandic mega-band Sigur Ros in Madison Square Gardens. “That just seemed like something very epic,” she said of the timing. “From there, I want to hit the ground running.”

Ceding her post as Classical Rev’s executive director to composer and longtime group member Christopher Corbell, Kaiser will retain her role as creative director, hopefully leveraging it alongside more opportunities from afar. She’ll take private lessons from fellow violist (and sometime Classical Rev guest) Jessica Meyer and continue her training in Dalcroze Eurhythmics at Carnegie Mellon this summer (her second swipe at grad school there; she attended briefly before her Portland adventure).

“One of my students got me a year-long membership to MoMA, and I just wanna go hang out there every weekend and study Kandinsky paintings! I want to get to know the musical community there…and…I’m looking forward to growing. I know that sounds really cliché, but I’m really excited about what’s out there.”

The Goal

“My ideal longer-term setup would be bicoastal, working in music promotion. Basically, I’ve created a bunch of musical relationships on the east coast, and while I’m learning things in New York and experiencing that [larger] scene, I also want to funnel all the great things that are there back through Portland—but I don’t know how easy that will be. My parents still live in Portland, so for sure I’ll be here for every single Bachxing Day [Classical Rev’s holiday staple show].”

Fond Regrets

“Aw, it’s just heartbreaking to leave my students,” says Kaiser. “I have 15 students from 5-70 years old, and they all give me the googly-eyes. But many of them saw Jessica perform when she came to town, so when I tell them, ‘Look, I need a teacher too!’ they understand why I have to leave.”

“I’ll miss Portland’s opennness and the inclusiveness, and the rapport between the performers and the audience. There’s a really amazing connection that’s happening there that I haven’t witnessed in any other city except San Francisco. Especially at The Waypost, there’s no disconnect between musicians and audience; everyone is interacting w/ performance whether they’re playing an instrument or not. Portland also has an openness to new classical music that I haven’t ever seen before. It doesn’t matter if you’re professional, semiprofessional or amateur, we can all be creating things together. I’ll also miss the food—and, oh! I’m leaving plenty of unfinished romances….

Moment of Truth

“If there’s anything I can leave you with, it’s just ‘give, give, give,’ gushed a tipsier Kaiser from the Waypost stage on Friday. Upon further reflection on Monday as she finished final packing, she simply said, “We created something really really beautiful. It’s overwhelming to me what Classical Revolution has become, and the relationships that have formed with everybody. It’s a pretty incredible thing, and I’m grateful for it.”