monica huggett

2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

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Music Notes: gone virtual

With so many performances going online, our news roundup follows suit with video and audio from Oregon musicians

With so many performances going online, our news roundup follows suit with video and audio from Oregon musicians for your home streaming enjoyment

Since we’re all streaming instead of attending these days, this latest edition of our irregular music news roundup accordingly boasts lots of  recent music related video and audio treats to tune into while we impatiently await the return of live music. And it’s replete with announcements of upcoming music seasons gone virtual. Since for the most part we can’t actually be there, we’ll just have to be square — or actually (checks screen dimensions) rectangular.

Double Dash offered a behind-the-scenes peek at the improvisational creative process.

However, live music is creeping back in occasional, socially distanced performances featuring a few musicians and spaced-out audience members. Last time, we told you about the Driveway Jazz Series (streamable socially distanced outdoor performances by top Portland jazz artists held in front of a bungalow in Southeast Portland, which continues every Friday at 4 pm), Boom Arts’s parking lot shows, and Eugene Symphony/Delgani Quartet cellist Eric Alterman’s solo recitals (featuring his own music and J.S. Bach’s) in a Eugene park. Now comes news that pianist Hunter Noack’s In a Landscape project and the Oregon Garden have each found ways to bring the music back to live. 

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Confronting the great divides

America's battle with itself comes alive in a pair of plays, a book on the working-class tightrope, and a photo show about the persistent South

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED DURING OUR RECENT IMPEACHMENT SPAT and other real or manufactured public outrages, we are living in deeply divided times. One of the roles of art is to look into such abysses and give them shape that either clarifies the issues or reveals them to be more confusing and complex than we believe. In times like these art is not simply decoration: It also can be, and likely should be, a relentless and unwaveringly human mirror. 

Jason Glick and Andrea White, caught in a Blind. Photo: Lindberg Media

Art often looks back to look forward. While watching Lynn Nottage’s brilliant play Sweat in its recently closed, knockout production by Profile Theatre, I felt the lurking presence of the late, great Arthur Miller in the hall. Nottage’s play, which deals with the economic crumbling of the American working class and the way such stresses also can reveal racial and other fault lines, suggests some of the underpinnings of populism’s hard turn to the right and left. It also feels like an updating and almost a reverse image of Miller’s 20th century social realism in the likes of All My Sons, a play that looks at the effects of economic skullduggery from the vantage of the owners, while Sweat considers its brutalizing effect on the workers.

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PBO’s Monica Huggett to retire

The internationally prominent violinist, who's led Portland Baroque Orchestra for 26 years, will retire after the company's 2020-2021 season

Monica Huggett, the internationally celebrated Baroque violinist who has been artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra for more than a quarter-century, will retire from the company at the end of its 2020-21 season, PBO announced Monday. Huggett, 66, will continue as artistic director emeritus.

Monica Huggett, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s longtime leader, will retire after the 2020-2021 season. 2013 photo

Huggett has spent her career deeply involved in the international Baroque and historical performance music movements, and helped build PBO, which she joined as artistic director in 1994, into a leading advocate of the music. “During her tenure, the orchestra has grown to the third largest period performance orchestra in the country with over 25 concert events a year including the popular holiday performances of Handel’s Messiah,” the company said in a press release.

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Portland Baroque Orchestra: thoroughly unmodern Mozart

Vivacious historically informed performance reveals aspects of the composer’s mastery modern instruments can’t match

Photos by Jonathan Ley

No one considers Mozart a Baroque composer, but as Portland Baroque Orchestra Artistic Director Monica Huggett pointed out just before their all-Mozart concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, a week ago last Sunday, it’s perfectly reasonable for the PBO to play his music. Mozart was born as the Industrial Revolution was just getting started, but it only arrived in his Austrian homeland decades after he died, so the sound of PBO’s pre-industrial design instruments would likely have pleased him more than a modern orchestra.

 PBO hornists Sadie Glass and Andrew Clark

Like any adventurous composer, Mozart was often dissatisfied with the instrumental limitations of his time, but he was also among the most practical of composers. He carefully deployed the available musical forces, and to the degree instruments have changed since then, playing his music on anachronistic modern ones risks losing his intended sound.

Take the first piece on PBO’s program, the E-flat major Serenade for winds, K. 375. Mozart’s smooth, expert blending of bassoons, horns, and oboes (two each), contrasting with the two clarinets’ distinctive tone, is evident even on modern instruments.  I’m not quite sure how he did this, but in the performance by the PBO wind players, the blend was so intimate that they often sounded like one instrument – maybe a small organ or harmonium. (A particular challenge of writing for modern wind quintet is blending all the different characteristic sounds into one unified soundscape.) Just as with modern instruments, the two clarinets stood out as if they were soloists.

PBO clarinetists Bryan Conger and Ed Matthew

The serenade also displays Mozart’s signature ability to weave any number of connoisseur-pleasing details into instantly appealing compositions. Excursions to distant keys, bits of intricate counterpoint, surprising melodic reminiscences – such as the poignant one by oboe in its own solo guise near the end of the Adagio movement – sailed by on a river of the brilliant tunes, runs, and fanfares typical of serenades of the time, all played with verve by the eight musicians.

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MusicWatch Weekly: across the ages

Concerts span the centuries from Renaissance to 21st century sounds

Oregonians today are lucky to be able to hear live performances of music from several centuries, not just the narrow 150 year swath of Central European music that once dominated classical concerts. This week’s concert schedule includes music from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and contemporary eras—- sometimes in the same show.

Big Mouth’s Emily Lau

Big Mouth Society  has added a wonderful, welcome wild card to Oregon music. Headed by accomplished early music performer Emily Lau, the group combines theater, performance art, Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary music, and modern social concerns into singular shows that transcend standard concert format. In King of Monster Island: A Wild Memoir, Lau and another nationally renowned early musician, Tina Chancey, use viol solos, medieval music by Guillaume de Machaut, Irish hornpipes, Bosnian Sephardic tangos, “as well as juvenilia, parody, satire and a shameless reworking of tunes by Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Tom Lehrer and Flory Jagoda” to tell an eventful autobiographical tale.
Friday & Saturday, The Hallowed Halls, 4420 SE 64th Ave. Portland.

• Another ensemble that mingles ancient and modern, Dreamers’ Circus, came together, as so many happy combinations do, in a pub. Jazz pianist Nikolaj Busk had repaired to a Copenhagen bar after a concert and spotted a fiddler (Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen) and Swedish cittern (a Renaissance lute) player, Ale Carr, jamming on traditional Danish tunes. Busk joined on in the bar’s piano, and over the next decade, the trio found itself not only winning folk music awards but also working with classical music bands like Copenhagen Philharmonic and the renowned Danish String Quartet — Sorenson’s other band. His classical background, Busk’s jazz influence and Carr’s long roots in traditional folk music give the band a unique and musically vibrant place in the folk music world, as evidenced by the fact that this show is presented by Portland’s venerable classical organization Friends of Chamber Music.

Along with “classical” piano and violin, they’re liable to bust out accordion, cittern, kokle, ukulele, stomp board, clog fiddle and synthesizers. Their splendid new Rooftop Sessions album shows the band at its best. Here’s a clip of them performing with another great Swedish band, Väsen, which performs at The Shedd in Eugene next Wednesday, April 10. Read Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch feature about their previous Oregon visit.
Sunday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Despite their name, the Tallis Scholars are far from musty or academic. Long recognized as one of the world’s finest choirs, the award-winning singers make sacred Renaissance music come alive with transparent, soaring performances that move today’s listeners. Over four decades, they’ve toured the world many times over, and won loyal audiences in previous Portland performances. This one is a greatest hits of Renaissance choral music, including Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere, and church classics by Josquin Des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Cristóbal de Morales.
Sunday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, Portland.

• In Guitarology, the latest concert in the valuable (yet free of charge!) Celebration Works Series, Portland Guitar Duo also crosses the centuries in music, tracing the development of the guitar over half a millennium of music on a collection of historic lutes and guitars.
Friday, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, Portland.

Monica Huggett plays French music with Portland Baroque Orchestra musicians.

Baroque

• The most familiar Baroque music is either Italian (Vivaldi, Corelli) or German (Bach, Handel). But 18th century French music has its own elegance and charm. In Leclair, Rameau, and the Age of Enlightenment, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s new chamber music series brings two superstars of Baroque music, guest harpsichordist Byron Schenkman and PBO artistic director and violinist Monica Huggett, to join veteran PBO viola da gamba master Joanna Blendulf and violinist Toma Iliev, in graceful, spirited sounds by François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and tragically short-lived Jean-Marie Leclair.
Saturday, First Baptist Church, 1110 S.W. Taylor St. Portland.

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Oregon Bach Festival review: vision vacuum

Lacking a coherent artistic vision, venerable festival flounders

By TOM MANOFF

You can’t really assess what was at this season’s Oregon Bach Festival without acknowledging what wasn’t: erstwhile artistic director Matthew Halls, the multi-talented conductor whose questionable dismissal last year was widely covered throughout the arts world. Would this new season put an end to the shocking (for many) episode? Would this year’s music reassure audiences and musicians that OBF will continue at the highest levels of artistry? Most crucial, could the festival of founding artistic director Helmuth Rilling and Matthew Halls remain world class — without a music director?

Baroque on Steroids

OBF 2018 started June 29 at Silva Hall with audience favorite Monica Huggett leading the Festival’s 30-member Baroque Orchestra in four of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. In first half lineup of Brandenburgs 2, 4, and 5, No.4 was best performed, with Huggett’s virtuosic violin passages shimmering through Bach’s delightfully dense harmony and counterpoint.

The other two Brandenburgs fared less well with poor ensemble playing. The tempos were quite brisk and not all sections kept up with the pace.

Monica Huggett conducted Bach’s music at this year’s Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Athena Delene.

The OBF Berwick Academy — the festival’s workshop orchestra of 30 young period instrumentalists — joined the OBF pros to make an unusually large orchestra for Bach, but suitable for Silva’s large space. Perhaps in keeping with this “Baroque-on-steroids” ensemble, Huggett led an irreverent (but somewhat charming) interpretation of Brandenburg One. The longtime Portland Baroque Orchestra leader and renowned Baroque violinist asked the audience to imagine that the two horn players in the ensemble were drunk, low-born musicians who had crashed a royal musical occasion. Whenever they played, Huggett pointed her bow to them, exhorting a loud, over the top effect. At other times Huggett stomped her feet with the music. Not your standard Bach, but the audience loved it. I remain on the fence. Since the concert I’ve listened to the work several times on CD with the score to restore the music to a more pristine version in my mind.

The concert ended with a tidy performance of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, led from the keyboard by visiting conductor Alexander Weimann, but, following the “Bach Bacchanale” that was the Brandenburg One, the Suite came off as too straight-laced.

Silva’s acoustic was problematic. The sound was unfocused and without warmth. But last year, in the same hall, a splendid OBF performance of Handel’s Hercules proved that some Baroque fare sounds fine in Silva space. But Handel’s textures are generally less dense than Bach’s, especially the Brandenburgs. How to use Silva (and its electronic enhancement system) is an ongoing issue for OBF, ideally addressed by a future artistic director.

Berwick Academy

My favorite performance of the festival was by the Berwick Academy. The first half of their July 3 concert featured Telemann’s Overture in E minor, Händel’s Concerto Grosso in A major Op.6, No.11, and the suite from his 1706 opera Rodrigo in B flat.

This performance featured what every good Baroque outing must have: a decisive, forward moving bass line from the continuo instruments. In too many performances, the bass line plods along with no regard for the melodic richness. But here, the energized and nuanced phrasing by the cello and double bass Berwick players enlivened the lower part of the musical structure.

Phrasing from the entire ensemble was wonderful. Renowned Dutch harpsichordist Jacques Ogg directed from the keyboard. Concertmaster Chloe Fedor was particularly elegant leading the string section, and moving with the phrasing almost like a dancer.

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