Nina Simone

No opera glasses needed

Camille Sherman and Damien Geter showcase contemporary composers in Portland Opera’s new online recital series

On November 11th, Portland Opera premiered the second installment of “Live From the Hampton Opera Center,” a series of free, virtual recitals featuring artists who call the PNW home. In Women in Political Life, mezzo-soprano Camille Sherman embodies an array of first ladies and the husband of one late Supreme Court justice. The recital, directed and curated by Kristine McIntyre, features music by contemporary American composers Stacy Garrop and Jake Heggie. Sherman sings in English throughout.

Sherman begins her recital with Garrop’s song cycle In Eleanor’s Words. The songs’ lyrics are adapted from My Day, a newspaper column written by Eleanor Roosevelt from 1935 to 1960. What I like most about the cycle–and in the recital in general–is that it is also a piece of theatre. “The Newspaper Column,” the cycle’s first song, opens with the percussive sound of a keyboard. But the hands of pianist Susan McDaniel are still. Sherman, dressed in First Lady attire, is banging away on a portable typewriter. She turns from the typewriter to the camera. “Washington, September 8th, 1936,” she says, then proceeds to sing about the art of journalism.

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Bending genres to the world’s shape

"Classical music remains racist," composer DBR declares. His vital music breathes the air of Prince, hip-hop, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone.

In the heatwave of the Black Lives Matter movement and the thirst to hear new multicultural classical music, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is a force to be reckoned with. 

His striking, genre-bending music will be spotlighted at this season’s third virtual Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, from Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon. His pieces include “String Quartet No. 5 (Parks),” which speaks to Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala.; and “Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes,” 24 works in each musical key. His compositions are programmed with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s final “String Quartet, Opus 135” and the little-known Baroque composer/nun Isabella Leonarda’s “Sonata #12” for violin and cello. Roumain served as one of three virtual composers-in-residence for this year’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. (See my previous festival stories, Flights of music from a barrel room and Chamber music and a virtual toast, at Oregon Arts Watch.)

Composer DBR: “My work has always been a very small part of that big fight for justice.”

DBR, Roumain’s professional name, is “an important voice, now and in the future, and his music is stunning,” festival co-director and violinist Sasha Callahan said earlier this month. “The `Parks’ quartet we’ll be playing is fierce, bold, beautiful and full of life. It’s really evocative and distinctive” — and it includes clapping, a practice that reaches back to ancient cultures. 

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