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MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet

Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

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MusicWatch Weekly: Streams & tributaries

Electronica, Celtica, Symphonica, Jazz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last week, when we started talking about “living traditions,” we found that problematizing “world music” opened up the possibility that all genres are a form of tradition–a vast world of traditions within traditions, interacting with each other, ever-evolving, world without end, amen. We’ll be getting into all that in due course. For now, dear reader, we have more homework for you: another week’s worth of concerts, all geared toward your tradition-loving enjoyment and edification.

We’ll start with Japanese composer Takako Minekawa, who doesn’t make “world music.”

Minekawa is performing twice in Portland this week. She works in what we might call the Krautrock tradition: she’s spent the last thirty-odd years crafting vintage synth-laden pop music inspired by the legendary ‘70s Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra and the Robots of Düsseldorf Themselves. Minekawa performs a solo set Thursday (tonight!) at tone poem in Southeast Portland, so grab your bus pass and get moving. The next evening, she’s at the charming Leaven Community Center on Northeast Killingsworth for a quadraphonic concert presented in conjunction with Portland Community College’s Music & Sonic Arts Program.

Let’s circle back to “quadraphonic.” Music audio systems generally come in three varieties: the old-fashioned mono (one speaker channel), reigning champion stereo (left and right), and newishfangled quadraphonic (four channels). It’s one of those things you just have to experience live, and this concert gives you a chance to hear four masters at work on a “multi channel quad performance.” Minekawa joins Francisco Botello, Visible Cloaks, and Carl Stone (a student of Morton Subotnick, which is all you need to know).

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MusicWatch Weekly: Big and small

Big bands, big choirs, chamber classical, and hybrid music from Indonesia and the British Isles

Well, I just got back from hearing Third Angle play Eve Beglarian, Lee Hyla, David Lang, and a bunch of other sweet stuff down in the cozy Jack London Revue basement underneath the billiard tables. You know how sometimes when you’re watching a big band play a long set there’ll be a few players in the corps who have some classical tricks up their sleeves, and when the rest of the band takes a break one of those soloists might come downstage and rip out a crazy impressive solo, maybe a bit of Bach or Wuorinen, the sort of stuff they don’t usually get to play in jazz clubs? 3A’s Back in the Groove was exactly like that. A whole evening of it.

Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann saved the best, grooviest, flashiest music for herself, like a boss–but like a good boss, you know? The rare type of boss who approves all your sick days, keeps meetings on topic, knows how to use Excel, and not only can fix the copier but actually does. Clarinetist James Shields and saxophonist Sean Fredenburg both killed it–the latter tearing his way through Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, the former playing Reich’s New York Counterpoint along with his own fifteen-year-old undergrad backing tracks, the pair of ’em barking at each other in Lee Hyla’s gnarly, groovy, gloriously incomprehensible We Speak Etruscan–but it was Tiedemann’s graceful performance of the fiendishly difficult (but oh so melodic!) music of Jacob TV and Eve Beglarian that had us shooting coffee out our noses in shocked delight.

Anyways, you’ll hear all about the rest of this lovely show from me soon enough. Right now you’ve got new concerts to read about–big bands and small bands and sludgey bands and tribes of singers and song collectors–and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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MusicWatch Weekly: hearing the future

Family friendly and youth-oriented concerts nurture tomorrow's musical artists -- and audiences

Music, like any other art form, must prove itself to each generation if it’s going to last. That’s why classical music and jazz organizations increasingly sponsor shows suited to kids and families, like Oregon Symphony’s Sci-Fi at the Pops shows Saturday and Sunday, OSO musicians’ free Classical Up Close concerts around the metro area this week, Eugene Concert Choir’s family friendly version of its American Style concert (see below) Saturday, and Eugene Symphony’s Sunday family concert that allows the kiddos to explore symphonic music with help from a virtually reincarnated Ludwig van Beethoven himself. And Eugene’s The Shedd offers a free jazz student ticket program to shows like Sunday’s Jazz Heritage Project concert covering tunes by Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis, Harold Arlen, Billy Strayhorn, and George Gershwin, just in time to close out Jazz Appreciation Month.

FearNoMusic’s “Hearing the Future” concerts showcase music by emerging composers.

But for an art form to really remain alive and creating, we need to invest not just in teaching kids to passively “appreciate” old music — but to create new music in the classical tradition. I can’t think of a better way for the public to support music. That’s the value of FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project, which offers Portland area students coaching from the new music ensemble’s musicians and composers to help them realize their own unique visions. FNM’s latest Hearing The Future concerts showcase 30 new works by the next generation of Oregon composers.
Sunday, Portland State University Lincoln Hall.

• Arvo Pärt’s shimmering, bell-like sacred music has won listeners far beyond contemporary classical insiders, making him the most performed living classical composer since 2010. The Estonian master’ shimmering “tintinnabuli” (bell-like) style can sound both soothing and stirring, often with an astringent quality that avoids the gooey saccharinity of much contemporary choral music, leading some to dub him a “mystical minimalist.” Since turning 80 in 2015, he’s been the subject of many tributes around the world, including Portland. In White Light: The Music of Arvo Pärt, Oregon Repertory Singers contributes its own with a performance of several of Pärt’s greatest hits: the 1990 Berlin Mass (which the choir recorded in 1993), his 1985 Te Deum (which includes string orchestra and prepared piano), and the brief a cappella work The Woman with the Alabaster Box.
Saturday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers sings music by Arvo Pärt. Photo: Allison Silverberg.

Eugene Concert Choir presents a different kind of American classical music — big band jazz and Broadway show tunes from the last century, pairing the 100 voice choir with a barbershop quartet and well known Eugene performers Vicki Brabham on piano, Evynne Hollens and her fellow Broadway singer Calvin Orlando Smith.

Portland Baroque Orchestra embarks on one of its occasional ventures outside its core early 18th century comfort zone and into the later Classical period with an all Mozart program featuring two of the composer’s greatest achievements, plus his E flat Serenade, which unleashes one memorable tune — sometimes operatic and dramatic, sometimes cheery— after another. Employing a fortepiano similar to what the composer himself might have used, specialist Eric Zivian stars in Mozart’s dark, passionate 24th piano concerto, one of the greatest of all concertos. (Read Alice Hardesty’s ArtsWatch story about the instrument.) And in his magnificent final symphony, Mozart’s final movement somehow weaves five major preceding themes into a spectacular thrill ride that’s never been equaled. Though performed here in a church and a college rather than the (perhaps) originally intended casino, this is a rare chance to hear one of humanity’s grandest artistic achievements on a relatively intimate scale and instruments similar to those the composer intended.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland.

• One thing that makes Mozart’s mature music so powerful is his discovery of the music of J.S. Bach, facilitated by Bach’s youngest son Johann Christian. JC’s music along with that of his BFF Carl Friedrich Abel is the subject of Oregon Bach Collegium’s concert featuring another expert forte pianist, Margret Gries and Ann Shaffer on viola da gamba.
Sunday, United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington, Eugene.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spring awakenings

As a new season arrives, concerts awaken Oregonians to stories about gender, migration, cross cultural encounters, and more

As 21st century America belatedly recognizes that gender isn’t always a binary phenomenon, artists have increasingly illuminated its fluid, spectral reality, as Oregonians have seen in recent Time Based Art Festival performances, last fall’s Contralto show by Third Angle, and more. Now comes the most produced contemporary opera in North America since its 2014 premiere. As One is inspired by the true story of its scenic designer and co-librettist. Kimberly Reed became the first commercially released transgender filmmaker with her breakthrough film Prodigal Sons, which chronicled her journey from star Montana high school quarterback to award winning film director. In this chamber opera co-created by American composer Laura Kaminsky and renowned co-librettist Mark Campbell, two singers tell the coming of age story of the fictional trans protagonist, Hannah — one playing before her gender transformation, one after. Her journey is depicted against the backdrop of Reed’s sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic imagery, projected on five screens. Stay tuned for my profile of Reed and Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-March 30, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• More theatrical music comes from Light Opera of Portland (LOoP), whose original, romantic musical We Met in Moscow is based upon events in the lives of Ralph Bunch, a professor emeritus from Portland State University, and his wife Eleanora Andreevna, head of cybernetics at the Kremlin in the 1990s. Portland composer John Vergin did his own treatment of the story just a few months ago, and now writer/lyricist Dennis Britten and composer Kevin Lay give the musical treatment to this Oregon/Russia love story.
Friday-March 29, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

• Over the past few years, Portland classical music organizations have belatedly begun to redress the inexcusable gender imbalance on their concert programs by finally including a few works by female composers. Now, Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic does something similar for women’s words as well as music. Because Of Her, We Make Songs features musical settings (by female and male composers) of text by women poets from around the world (Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Elinor Wylie, Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Lowell, Gabriela Mistral), including songs by the excellent Northwester composer Alex Shapiro, Ricky Ian Gordon, Florence Price, Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, and more. Oregon’s 2019 Poetry Out Loud Champion and Runner-Up, Belise Nishimwe of St. Mary’s Academy and Nicole Coronado of Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, also perform.
Monday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

To celebrate the Portland premiere of ‘As One’, Portland Opera commissioned award-winning photographer Gia Goodrich to create a series of portraits and interviews celebrating 11 transgender individuals in Portland’s community. Portrait from “As I Am” exhibition by Gia Goodrich.

FearNoMusic is also the house band for Cascadia Composers’s 10th anniversary concert. Until the group arrived, ambitious Northwest composers who wanted others to hear their original contemporary classical music usually had to take an academic job and hope for the occasional performance by students, or move to New York or other cultural cosmopoli. Since forming a decade ago, the organization has provided Portland and other Northwest composers showcases for their music (10 concerts this year alone, over 500 new works and 100 world premieres over a decade), networking, mutual support and info, even exchanges with composers in other countries. Now the largest and most active local group in the National Association of Composers/USA, Cascadia has become a vital part of Portland’s creative music scene. This 10th anniversary concert includes music for percussion, voice, strings, flute, and piano written by the organization’s founding composers: David Bernstein, Tomas Svoboda, Greg Steinke, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Dan Senn, Bonnie Miksch, and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, whose styles range widely across the spectrum of 21st century classical music.
Friday, Lincoln Hall Room 75, Portland State University. Streaming here.

Svoboda and Gabel in 1999. Photo: Françoise Simoneau.

Orchestral Music

Today’s weapon of choice in humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our preferred means of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was the anguished central figure in Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr. Atomic: American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Based on Richard Rhodes’ book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the story of a great scientist’s Faustian bargain seemed a great subject for contemporary opera by one of my favorite composers, but the overlong world premiere I saw in San Francisco failed to ignite onstage, even when choreographer Lucinda Childs sent dancers sprinting across the stage for no apparent reason in a desperate attempt to inject some action to dispel the dramatic inertia. What did work was Adams’s tense, urgent music, inspired by everything from minimalism to the science fiction movie sounds of the 1950s. He later assembled its best music into a symphony, which the Oregon Symphony performed last month, and which the Eugene Symphony plays Thursday, along with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and another Romantic classic, Brahms’s passionate Violin Concerto, starring rising prodigy Julian Rhee.
Thursday, Hult Center’s Silva Hall, Eugene.

See and hear “Coraline” Friday with the Oregon Symphony.

• Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, it performs Bruno Coulais’ score to Portland-based Laika Studios’ delightfully dark Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman story, Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall, while the film is projected on the giant screen for its tenth anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday, the orchestra then welcomes award winning singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers who ever lived (and a sparkling, influential jazz pianist to boot), Nat King Cole, with some hits from his late daughter Natalie too. And the rebranded Newport Symphony Orchestra at the Ocean plays piano concertos by Clara Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev (starring Amy Yang), plus music by the taken-too-soon French composer Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy (Spring Rounds), and George Gershwin’s ever-jolly An American in Paris Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center.

Chamber Music

Speaking of film music, German late Romantic composer Richard Strauss wrote a whole lot more music than the familiar five-note opener used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey decades after he died. 45th Parallel Universe’s Helios Camerata plays some of his theater music (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), opera tunes arranged for string sextet (Capriccio) and a rarely heard Double concerto for clarinet and bassoon.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Helios Camerata plays Strauss Thursday.

• In 2017, Eugene’s Delgani Quartet played Portland composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s blistering sixth string quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich that left the audience cheering. Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, it fully captured the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation. An ideal match of magnificent music, appropriate acoustic, and committed performers, it was one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. They’re playing it again this weekend, along with earlier Czech music by Dvorak (his final quartet), and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada, and other forward looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust.
Saturday, Christian Science Church, 935 High St SE, Salem, and Sunday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: American originals

Music by American composers warms up February’s concert calendar

When Chamber Music Northwest favorites the Dover Quartet, one of America’s hottest youngish string quartets scheduled a 2004 piece from one of America’s hottest young (then 27 year old) composers on their CMNW program, they might have known that San Francisco-based composer Mason Bates, who has a side career as a club DJ, would have his opera about Steve Jobs running up the road in Seattle the same week. But they couldn’t have known that that opera would take home a Grammy, as it did last weekend. You can probably discern a few electronica-style grooves, as well as Indonesian gamelan textures, in the pointillistic opening and closing of his quartet From Amber Frozen, which Bates says depicts “a rose-colored world as if viewed by an insect from the Jurassic, forever sealed in a crystal of dried amber on a tree.”

The Dover Quartet performs Wednesday at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Tom Emerson.

They’ll also play Tchaikovsky’s tearjerking third quartet, which pays passionate tribute to a violinist friend who died young, and the final quartet by another Romantic composer who also died way too young — Franz Schubert. As Reed College music prof David Schiff writes, “All four movements are on a monumental scale. In the first two movements Schubert immediately places us in an emotional soundscape which becomes ever more intense as the music unfolds…. The final movement … launches an extended perpetual motion that seems constantly to seek out an unambiguous state of lost innocence….”
7:30 PM Wednesday, The Old Church, Portland.

• Everybody knows Rhapsody in Blue, which likely ranks in the top three most recognizable works of American classical music. From that famous bluesy opening clarinet solo to the brassy, danceable first section to the gorgeous, expansive finale, George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece pulses with immortal melodies and Jazz Age urban pep — what the composer called “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” Its only real problem is overfamiliarity — in concert, on film soundtracks and recordings, many of us have heard it so much that it’s probably best suited as an introduction to classical concerts, like the Eugene Symphony’s Valentine’s Day show.

Not everybody knows that seven years later, Gershwin also wrote a second Rhapsody (originally titled Rhapsody in Rivets) that many regard as superior to, if not quite as tuneful as, the first. The Eugene Symphony is bringing pianist Pallavi Mahidhara to join the orchestra in both. The concert also offers two more stirring American works from the 1930s. Samuel Barber wrote his gritty, dramatic first symphony in 1936 — the same year he composed that other best-known American classic, his Adagio for strings, originally part of a string quartet.

The recommended concert boasts still another rarely heard North American gem from that same year: Musica para Charlar (Music for Chattering) by the most fascinating of all Mexican composers, and one of the 20th century’s finest, Silvestre Revueltas. He composed it for a film about the railroad arriving in Baja California, the year after composing what the eminent classical music authority Joseph Horowitz called one of the greatest of all film scores, Redes. Like Gershwin’s rhapsodies, it’s a fun, colorful piece that chugs along on train-like rhythms.

Why so much wonderful American music? Along with leading Oregon’s Britt Festival Orchestra, guest conductor Teddy Abrams, a rising young star destined to lead one of the world’s top orchestras someday, already conducts the Louisville Orchestra, which made its reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s by commissioning new works by American composers including Duke Ellington and Lou Harrison. Abrams, a protege of San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, is extending that wonderful legacy, and with splendid concerts like this, so is the Eugene Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

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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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