multnomah county library

Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.


Accessible Arts 3: streaming sounds

Multnomah County Library services provide free access to classical and other music from your computer


I began collecting records in earnest almost as soon as I got my first glimmers of the astonishing range and power of classical music. Some came from a couple of those old “Record Clubs” that sent you recordings in the mail; most were acquired on visits to an array of now-defunct record stores. When I divorced some decades ago the most wrenching episode of the entire process was the split of our records, when I played the part of the mother in that Solomon story about cutting the baby in two and gave up the entire Brahms collection rather than break apart that lovingly-crafted creation.

Last year I revisited one of those recordings whose custody I had so painfully ceded. I did not have to track it down in one of the surviving record stores, or order it online, or indeed pay anything at all. Instead I simply brought up my bookmark for one of Multnomah County Library’s music-streaming services, searched for “Brahms Violin Sonatas” and among the album covers was that lost stepchild: Pinchas Zuckerman and Daniel Barenboim playing the Brahms Sonatas for Violin and Piano plus those for Viola and Piano. I clicked “Borrow,” then “Play,” and was soon immersed in the beauties of performances that had formerly been delivered by a box-set of LPs. For several nights running this was the music playing on my headphones while I wound down my evening on the computer.

Multnomah County Central Library provides access to music from home.

After one of my Facebook friends shared a New Yorker story that focused on three Wayne Shorter albums from 1964, I simply opened my music folder, clicked “Hoopla,” punched in the jazzman’s name, and quickly found all three albums. They became the music I played on headphones from my phone for a couple of my sessions of cardiac rehab exercises, an energetic soundtrack for the spinning of wheels on exercise bikes, and the heave and slide of the rowing machine. And when Willamette Week reviewed a new album by Kamasi Washington I was delighted to discover that the same service allowed me to seek it out to find out what all the fuss was about.

There’s no substitute for the live music experience, and as you might guess from the first two parts of this series, about Arts for All tickets and wheelchair access, I’m dedicated to the proposition that the concert experience belongs to all of us. ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington has also described the increasing number of Oregon concerts now being live-streamed: another way to access this experience. But there’s no genre of music I know where the dedicated fan doesn’t want to supplement the live experience with recordings by one’s favorite musicians.

If your tastes run to the past, whether the riches from various decades of the 20th-century or the vast treasures laid by over the centuries before that, you will find it especially important to supplement your live music experience with recordings. But while paid streaming services have found a way to reduce the performers’ payoff to an even smaller pittance than in the old days when producers siphoned off most of the loot, they have not yet reduced the price to consumers sufficiently to make recorded music cheap enough for the large potential audience that cares–or might care, if they got the chance to explore a little–about music such as jazz and classical that lacks a mass-market hype machine. But if you’re a debt-saddled twenty-something, or are just discovering how how “fixed” your Social Security really is, you’ll be happy to know that our splendid local library system has your back, with albums in the tens of thousands you can access anytime your want. Here’s an overview of the free options available to Multnomah County library card holders, and a how-to guide to using them.


In the Frame: Eleven Women

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Not too long ago I published a piece titled In the Frame: Eleven Men, which included portraits of eleven men. This is the second part of that In the Frame project: eleven women. As with the first installment, the faces here are those of talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of Portland, people who make this city what it is, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? I originally answered this question jokingly, saying “why not—it was the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon.” I suggested this capricious choice was some sort of salutary exercise, a confrontation with a personal bias in favor of symmetry. It was, in fact, the product of capitulation—of surrender to a troublesome temperament. The return to the number eleven here is simply a nod to this serendipitous template and to equity.

As with the previous set of portraits, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium. I have tried also to produce one that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image. These are not formal portraits, but casual ones—portraits that offer, I hope, some of the authentic intimacy that only a guileless reality affords.


Barbara Roberts


First woman to be elected Governor of Oregon; Associate Director at Portland State University’s School of Government Executive Leadership, and Member of Portland’s Metro Council.