Northwest Art Song

MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

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MusicWatch Weekly: musical collisions

Old and new, east and west, and other traditions interact in Oregon concerts this week

While some want to keep cultures/races/music “pure” and keep others out, history shows that the greatest accomplishment emerges from the collision of diverse influences, often originating where cultures cohabit. Cappella Romana’s performances of Renaissance music from the Greek islands Saturday night at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Sunday afternoon at Lake Oswego’s Our Lady of the Lake Church reflects the fruitful musical hybrids born on islands such as Crete, where Western/Italian music intermingled with Byzantine/Greek sounds. The estimable Portland vocal ensemble, which sang this music at the world’s pre-eminent early music festival in Utrecht, brings it home to Oregon for first performances and a recording.

Is this whole #meToo thing going #toofar? I don’t think so, but decide for yourself Sunday night at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall when the superb singers of Portland’s Northwest Art Song seize a famous composition written for a single male singer with pianist and — transform it into a duet by two nonpareil female vocalists, soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, with pianist Susan McDaniel. The gender switcheroo — and the transformation from monologue to dramatic dialogue — should add dimension, sugar and spice to Franz Schubert’s 1823 song cycle about unrequited love, The Miller’s Daughter (Die schöne Müllerin). It sounds fascinating, and with performers and music as great as those involved here, an experiment worth trying. By coincidence, another Oregon soprano is pulling the same move, as you’ll learn in this space next week.

Northwest Art Song sings Schubert on Sunday.

Earlier Sunday at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, Oregon Bach Collegium’s all-JS Bach show features the Delgani Quartet and others performing three of his ever popular Brandenburg Concertos and a couple of equally lovely sonatas, all played on period instruments by historically informed experts.

Also on Sunday afternoon, Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko plays Mozart, Beethoven and Prokofiev at Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center Sunday afternoon.

For a glimpse into classical music’s future, check out either or both Sunday afternoon concerts in one of Oregon’s most valuable artistic incubators: Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project. Young composers, age 10 through 18 have been working with the Portland new music ensemble’s pros all year to develop their musical ideas into playable pieces, culminating in these concerts in Lincoln Hall at Portland State University.

Sonia Wieder-Atherton on cello in the frame of Chantal Akerman’s film “Saute ma ville” (1968). Photo: Fondation Chantal Akerman.

Wild card of the week: Tuesday and next Wednesday’s performances by Paris-based cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton’s CHANTAL? A dialogue between a movie, a cello and a text at Pacific Northwest College of Arts’s Mediatheque. This intriguing multimedia collision about the great avant garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman involves film, personal memoir, and more; the musical segments include works by Prokofiev, Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáček and more.

And speaking of music and film, the documentary Itzhak about the legendary violinist whose last name, like Prince and Madonna’s, is unnecessary, returns this weekend to Portland’s Living Room Theaters.

Classical UpClose continues breaking down barriers between music fans and classical music with its third week of free Portland-area shows performed by Oregon Symphony musicians, including concerts Friday at Tigard United Methodist Church, and Tuesday at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church. Smaller scale mid-day chamber music “blitzes” pop up throughout the week at Tigard’s Symposium Coffee House, ​Milwaukie Center, and Hollywood Senior Center. Check the schedule and interactive map for details.

Speaking of family friendly classical fare, well known Eugene actor Bill Hulings stars in Eugene Symphony’s Sunday concert, The Composer is Dead, based on Lemony Snicket’s delightful murder mystery and featuring original music by American composer Nathaniel Stookey. It’s an inviting — and interactive — introduction to music and instruments.

Show Tunes

Music and theater also collide Friday and Saturday in Eugene at The Shedd’s annual cabaret presentation of Evynne Hollens’ Contemporary Songbook, which brings music from today’s Broadway stages to Oregon. This time the featured musicals are biographical, from Hamilton, Beautiful, Anastasia, Grey Gardens, Fun Home, Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, and recent hits like last year’s Come from Away and the current movie musical The Greatest Showman inspired by the true story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of Barnum & Bailey Circus, plus a peek at singer Hollens’s new musical in progress with Portland singer-songwriter Anna Gilbert, Milagro.

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