oregon bach festival

Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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Summer Streams

Chamber Music Northwest and Oregon Bach Festival lead parade of Oregon summer shows from onstage to online

Normally around this time, we’d be telling you all about Oregon’s two major summer classical music festivals, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival, both celebrating their 50th anniversaries this summer. But ‘normally’ scampered off awhile back, to return who knows when, if ever. So CMNW and OBF, along with many other festivals, orchestras, ensembles, and opera companies around the world that have turned to streaming live and/or archival video and/or audio as a substitute for suspended live performances. Anyone who’s been writhing in Zoom hell for the past few months knows that online can’t fully replace in-person experiences, but for now, all we have to do is stream, stream, stream. 

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s trio performance by Ida Kavafian, Peter Wiley and Steven Tenenbom.

Live and Archived

Beginning Monday, June 22 (the opening program is available through 11:59 p.m.Tuesday, June 23) and continuing through July 26, you can hear Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival, with three digital concerts appearing each week on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7 pm and available through the next day at CMNW.org and on Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel. It includes a mix of five all-new streamed performances featuring some of America’s most distinguished classical chamber players, all longtime CMNW/Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center vets who happen to be related by birth or marriage, and so able to perform together from their New York homes without fear of contagion — literally, hausmusik. The performances, prerecorded over the past two weeks, are preceded by introductions commentary by the artists.

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s Neubauer family concert

A baker’s dozen archived shows feature new music by some of America’s finest living composers (David Lang, Valerie Coleman, Kevin Puts and more), family-friendly fare both classic (Carnival of the Animals) and contemporary (Bruce Adolphe’s Marita and Her Heart’s Desire), a collaboration with Portland dance troupe BodyVox, a multi concert complete cycle of Beethoven’s magnificent string quartets by Austin’s Miro Quartet, a Peter Schickele tribute, an all-French concert, and a streamload of chamber classics from the 18th through 20th centuries — including a swan song starring longtime retiring artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin.

Bright Sheng’s ‘The Silver River’ finally debuted at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Top recommendation: the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. And stay tuned for more previews by ArtsWatch music editor Matthew Andrews.

My Bach Pages

The virus crisis has also forced the University of Oregon’s Oregon Bach Festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary by streaming archival recordings to replace its canceled 2020 edition — essentially a half century’s greatest hits. Hosted by Eugene’s own golden voiced classical music announcer Peter van de Graaff, the Radio Festival will be broadcast live on KWAX FM (over the radio and its website) from June 26 through July 10 and feature one-time (no online archiving) OBF performances recorded from 1979 through last year  — its Bach catalog, as it were. 

Traditionalists will swoon over staples like Bach’s St. Matthew (June 26) and St. John Passions (July 3, featuring the incomparable bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff), Monteverdi’s Vespers (July 1), Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Handel’s Messiah (June 29), Verdi’s Requiem (June 30) and so many more.

New music fans will welcome the chance to hear world premieres of contemporary commissions next month. Celebrated Scottish composer James Macmillan’s A European Requiem airs July 7, and Ralph M. Johnson’s short, sweet This House of Peace June 30, while the July 9 broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died earlier this year.

Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Helmuth Rilling conducts a performance of Sven-David Sandström’s “Messiah” in 2009. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers

You can also tune in to Quasthoff’s memorable, must-hear 1998 recital on July 8, in a segment that also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Other concerts include Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos on July 6 (a perfect intro for classical newbies and perennial for OG baroque fans), Mendelssohn’s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 2 and classics by Schubert, CPE Bach (June 30, from 2019, the most recent show), and, sprinkled throughout, cantatas by his dad, the festival’s namesake.

Most of these performances were conducted by the festival’s founding music director, Helmuth Rilling, one of the 20th century’s most respected Bach specialists. But the closing July 10 broadcast featuring maybe Johann Sebastian’s ultimate creation, the mighty b minor Mass, was conducted by Rilling’s successor, Matthew Halls. In that and the July 1 concert, he leads an orchestra of early music specialists playing on the instruments and in the tunings closest to what Bach intended — signaling Halls’s valuable transformation of the festival from so much older then, it’s younger than that now. So it’s at once the most historical performance in the lineup — and the most forward looking, and an excellent chance to compare Halls’ and Rilling’s very different approaches. We fervently hope the festival will continue the since-ousted Halls’s turn toward historically informed performances. 

Hands Across the Web

The pandemic diverted another significant Oregon contemporary classical music anniversary from live to streamed performance. Cascadia Composers’ 10th annual In Good Hands recital showcases talented student performers from the Eugene and Portland metro areas performing homegrown new solo piano music written by Cascadia Composers members David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Ally Rose Czyzewiez, Dianne Davies, John De Runtz, Adam Eason, Jan Mittelstaedt, Lisa Neher, Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Paul Safar and Nicholas Yandell. This excellent connector between contemporary Oregon music and the next generation of Oregon musicians streams live at 3 pm Saturday, July 11 and will be available on demand archived at Cascadia Composers’ web site.  

The organization was originally scheduled to be a big part of the annual New Music Gathering that this year was supposed to happen in Portland. It’s since moved online, but CC and Portland composers and performers still enrich the program, including:

• Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon, Geter, and other composers talking about music and activism.

• Portland composer Jennifer Wright and her Skeleton Piano and an all-Cascadia “concert” assembled from earlier performances

• Portland composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s Triptych, (libretto by  Patrick Wohlmut)inspired by local disasters including the Tillamook Burn, Vanport Flood, and the inevitable Really Big One

• Portland composer Scott Unrein’s bird drawn in the sky of light, whose title is also a line in a gorgeous composition, In Honor of Aphrodite, by the late, great Portland-born composer Lou Harrison that I’ve had the joy of singing several times over the years. Other upcoming Oregon appearances include Resonance Ensemble and Third Angle New Music (Friday), Portland composer Ryan Francis and FearNoMusic pianist Jeff Payne talking about the group’s valuable Young Composers Workshop, eminent new music pianist and Portland native Kathleen Supove, Portland State University Percussion Ensemble, Opera Theater Oregon, Portland new music violist Christina Ebersohl, Portland composer Timothy Arliss O’Brien, and even Portland composer and ArtsWatch’s own music editor Matthew Andrews, and some of the country’s most renowned contemporary classical musicians and composers. Performances, discussions, and talks continue through the month, and it’s all archived for on demand gazing and listening.

R. Andrew Lee plays Scott Unrein’s ‘bird drawn in the sky of light’ at this month’s virtual New Music Gathering.

Other Oregon summer music festivals are also coming to your screens and speakers. Portland’s Creative Music Guild switched its Outset series to streaming, with remaining shows featuring New Orleans percussionist Diamond Kinkade and Portland hip hopper Gohan Blanco (June 23), and Ixnay on the Icket-thay & Quarantet 2020 featuring audio and video by John Niekrasz, Maxx Katz, Benjamin Kates, Mack McFarland and more (June 30).

Since early April, Oregon’s scintillating Pickathon music festival has raised over $140,000 for MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund via its A Concert A Day series of videos drawn from its vault of never-before-seen multi-cam, post-edited, and mastered footage of festival performances over the past decade. Proceeds support the artists who were scheduled to perform at this year’s now-scuppered festival. The organization has now extended the fundraiser through June, streaming sets from Wolf Parade, Langhorne Slim, Charley Crockett, Open Mike Eagle, Blind Pilot, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

• Bend’s  Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. The festival still hopes to award $35,000 in scholarships to classical music students for next school  year.

Lost in Streamland

We may be stuck at home, yet it seems like there’s more music available to us than ever. I’ve been enjoying streams, some live, some archived, from Oregon musicians: 45th Parallel Universe and its Portland Social Distance Ensemble, Resonance Ensemble (ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter’s The Talk and Agnus Dei, both on All Classical FM’s Played in Oregon show, available for two more weeks, along with an interview with Geter on the station’s State of the Arts show), Juneteenth (a jazz and hip hop-oriented celebration streamed from Portland jazz club Jack London Revue), Musica Maestrale, Cappella Romana, and more, including CMNW’s series of past performances airing on All Classical. 

I’ve also tuned into new music from beyond Oregon from Bang on a Can Marathon 2020, Minnesota Opera (Doubt, based on the Broadway hit play), Seattle’s Music of Remembrance, Metropolitan Opera (the magnificent recent productions Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and Satyagraha, and lots more. I recommend checking out this Friday’s 45th Parallel stream featuring poet Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet, reprising some of the powerful words and music from their extraordinary 2019 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. On Wednesday afternoon, KBOO FM will stream Portland composer Ezra Weiss’ fierce, ambitious big band composition We Limit Not The Truth of God, recommended in our recent round up of jazz-oriented Oregon recordings. And next Thursday, June 24, All Classical Portland’s Thursdays@3 program features sometime Portland composer Andy Akiho, with that episode available for streaming online for two weeks.

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more previews of upcoming Oregon performances. Until we can meet again in person, obey the wisdom of Aerosmith and stream on, y’all.

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Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

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Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

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ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

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Looking for Leadership

Oregon Bach Festival artistic director finalists offer three dramatically different visions of the festival’s future

When Roger Saydack lived on a bare bones graduate student budget at the University of Oregon in the mid-1970s, the only way he could afford to hear classical music live was what’s now called the Oregon Bach Festival’s Discovery Series concerts. Following along in a score from Smith Family Bookstore, he’d catch a strong performance of a Bach cantata for $2, explicated by one of the world’s experts on Bach, festival director Helmuth Rilling. 

The festival maintained its attraction for Saydack, a longtime Eugene lawyer, who three decades ago served as president of its board of directors, and went on to be involved in other classical music institutions like the League of American Orchestras, working with about 35 orchestras, opera companies and classical music festivals around the US in artistic leadership searches in various ways. He led the Eugene Symphony’s searches that successively produced probably the strongest crop of young, rising music directors of any midsized American orchestra: Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero, who all won acclaim and moved on to positions with bigger orchestras.

Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival's artistic director search.
Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival’s artistic director search.

Now, Saydack is bringing those skills back to the Bach Festival he’s long cherished, leading the search committee charged with finding a successor to Matthew Halls, the talented young artistic director controversially ousted in 2017 by the festival’s then-executive director, who was herself dumped after a backlash against Halls’ never-explained departure. 

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Music Notes: Comings, goings, stayings

Year end round up of recent news and moves in Oregon classical and jazz music

Portland Opera has named Sue Dixon the company’s sixth general director, replacing Christopher Mattaliano, who departed in June after 16 years. She’s served the company in other capacities since 2014. PO also temporarily assigned Mattaliano’s artistic direction responsibilities to Palm Beach Opera’s Daniel Biaggi, who’ll serve as interim artistic director until a permanent AD is found. The opera recently announced its return to a September – May schedule, beginning with the 2020/2021 season, and a five-year strategic plan to modernize business practices, augment community engagement, and balance the company’s budget. 

Sue Dixon, Portland Opera's new general director. Photo by Gia Goodrich.
Sue Dixon, Portland Opera’s new general director. Photo by Gia Goodrich.

Portland Piano International has named renowned Russian-American pianist Vladimir Feltsman its next Guest Curator for the 2020 / 2021 season. He will also open the season, performing on October 3 & 4, 2020.

• The Oregon Symphony has appointed Brooklyn-based composer and singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane to the newly-created post of Creative Chair. “In addition to writing and performing three substantial works over the next three seasons, Kahane will serve as an advisor for contemporary programming on the Classical series … and produce two new concert series: Open Music, a composer-driven chamber series held in smaller Portland venues, and an as yet unnamed indie concert series in which marquee pop artists will collaborate with dynamic composers and orchestrators,” the OSO press release announced.

Gabriel Kahane’s ‘emergency shelter intake form’ featured a “Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics.” From left: Holcombe Waller, Kahane, and Holland Andrews. Photo: Yi Yin.

Kahane’s emergency shelter intake form, co-commissioned by the orchestra, was a highlight of its previous season. In early December he presented the first of his new commissions (the world premiere of Pattern of the Rail, six orchestral settings from his 2018 album Book of Travelers, inspired by a cross country train trip through America following the contentious 2016 presidential election, and the premiere of the full orchestral version of “Empire Liquor Mart (9127 S. Figueroa St.)” from his moving 2014 album, The Ambassador).

• While artistic leaders come and go, the Eugene Symphony announced that its artistic director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, is staying, and has renewed his contract through 2023. In his two seasons at the helm, Lecce-Chong has undertaken a number of initiatives, the most promising being ESO’s First Symphony Project, co-commissioning (with his other orchestra, California’s Santa Rosa Symphony) four American orchestral works to be performed over the next four years, beginning with a new work from New York-based composer Matt Browne in March 2020.

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting the Eugene Symphony Orchestra at the Hult Center.

• Eugene’s other major classical music institution, the Oregon Bach Festival, parted ways with its controversial executive director, Janelle McCoy, blaming the elimination of her position on university budget cuts. Earlier, the festival reversed her decision to replace the popular artistic director she reportedly chased away, Matthew Halls, with rotating curators and instead embarked on a search for an actual artistic director.

Oregon Mozart Players has appointed a new Executive Director, Daren Fuster. He comes to the Eugene chamber orchestra from Ohio’s Columbus Symphony. Kelly Kuo remains the organization’s Artistic Director.

Siletz Bay Music Festival has named Jain Sekuler, its stage manager and production coordinator for the last three years, as its new Executive Director. Yaacov Bergman continues as Artistic Director, a position he has held for ten years.

Resonance Ensemble board president Dinah Dodds died in September. The longtime Lewis & Clark College professor was a great friend to Oregon music. Resonance has set up the Dinah Dodds Fund for the Creation of New Art in her memory.

• Portland-based jazz legend Dave Frishberg is, happily, still with us, but the 86 year old composer/singer/pianist and his wife April need some help with medical issues, which you can provide here

• Frishberg was the first recipient of PDX Jazz‘s Portland Jazz Master award, in 2011. The organization just named the 2020 winner, the superb singer Rebecca Kilgore, who’s recorded with Frishberg and many other American jazz legends. Already a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame, she’ll be honored during the PDX Jazz Festival’s February 27 event at The Old Church and perform with her trio the next day.

• Opera tenor Marcello Giordani, who made his American debut at Portland Opera in The Pearl Fishers and sang with the company several times under artistic director Robert Bailey before becoming a star at the Metropolitan Opera and Paris Operas and other major companies, has died in Sicily at age 56. 

• After 14 years running Central Oregon’s Sunriver Music Festival, executive director Pam Beezley is retiring at the end of the year, and the festival has launched a search to succeed her. 

•  Richard Lehnert, the respected longtime copyeditor of Stereophile, most recently at the magazine’s Ashland offices, has retired after 34 years, leaving behind a sweet reminiscence of his long tenure at one of the world’s leading music magazines.

Laurels & Shekels

Ethan Sperry conducts an Oregon Repertory Singers rehearsal at Portland State University. Photo by Paige Baker.
Ethan Sperry conducts an Oregon Repertory Singers rehearsal at Portland State University. Photo by Paige Baker.

•  Oregon Repertory Singers has won the 2019 American Prize in Choral Performance in the community chorus division. The major national performing arts prize is the latest earned by choirs directed by Ethan Sperry, the ORS artistic director who has also guided Portland State University’s choral singers to many national and international awards.

• Another Portland chorus, Sing Portland!, was the only adult choir from the US selected to perform at Carnegie Hall at a conference and three-day residency organized by Distinguished Concerts International New York that featured 500 singers from around the world. They’ll be returning in 2021. 

Sing Portland! at Distinguished Concerts International New York. Photo by Kristin Jacobson.
Sing Portland! at Distinguished Concerts International New York. Photo by Kristin Jacobson.

• The University of Oregon Chamber Choir won first place in the chamber choirs/vocal ensemble category at the Grand Prix of Nations in Gothenburg, Sweden, earlier this month, beating out 15 other choirs from around the world at one of Europe’s most prestigious choral competitions.

BRAVO Youth Orchestra trombonist Eric Acosta-Medina was among 100 students from around the country selected to perform in a July concert with the YOLA National Orchestra in Los Angeles’s Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. BRAVO is performing seven times around Portland in December.

• Portland’s Resonance Ensemble has been awarded a $100,000 grant from Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative to help fund the world premiere of composer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, which the choir commissioned and will perform with the Oregon Symphony on May 23 at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

• Several music organizations received grants in the Oregon Cultural Trust’s 2020 grants:

Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Music and Equity Program that addresses barriers to instrumental music for low-income youth;

Ethos Inc.’s rural outreach program Music Across Oregon;

My Voice Music’s artist mentorship after school programs for working families;

Phame Academy’s original rock opera;

Oregon Symphony’s programs for low income students (Kinderkonzerts, Young Peoples Concerts, Link Up, open rehearsals and Prelude Series);

Pacific Youth Choir’s expanded Neighborhood Choir for elementary school students;

Eugene Symphony’s youth music education programs;

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s touring program; 

Eugene-Springfield Youth Orchestras’ introductory strings classes;

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s From Maxville to Vanport program;

Marilyn Keller with PJCE in ‘From Maxville to Vanport.’

Montavilla Jazz Festival’s program expansion;

Third Angle New Music’s upcoming Sanctuaries original chamber opera by Portland composer, arranger, educator and pianist Darrell Grant (last year’s winner of the Portland Jazz Master award that Becky Kilgore just won) with a libretto by two-time National Poetry Slam Champion Anis Mojgani and directed by Alexander Gedeon. Sanctuaries also scored a $25,000 from the New York-based MAP Fund, the only Oregon-based arts group to earn one of the 42 original live performance projects to receive that grant.

Chamber Music Northwest’s 50th anniversary season’s community outreach activities for resident ensembles;

Fear No Music’s “The F Word” concert;

In Mulieribus’s October concert commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of composer Barbara Strozzi;

and operational support for Portland Baroque Orchestra, Portland Columbia Symphony, Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, Eugene Opera, and Shedd Institute for the Arts.

Composer Jake Runestad discusses his new orchestral work World On Fire, commissioned by the Oregon Coast Music Festival, and inspired by the massive fires that swept over Oregon in 2017. It premiered in July at Coos Bay’s Marshfield High School Auditorium. 

Positive Developments

All Classical Portland announced a new Music Heals initiative, a comprehensive radio, web, and social media campaign designed to raise awareness of local organizations that are using music to heal and help connect community members to those resources. It follows on the public radio station’s 2017-18 Music Feeds campaign, which provided 53,538 meals to those in need in Oregon and SW Washington.

Portland’5 Centers for the Arts has partnered with KultureCity to make Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium, Newmark Theatre, Winningstad Theatre, and Brunish Theatre, and all of the programs and events that they host, to be sensory inclusive. Portland’5 staff received training and equipment to improve the listening experience for customers with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions.

Classical Music ain’t dead yet! If you have more news about Oregon music you’d like us to consider for these occasional roundups, or for other OAW coverage, please let us know at music@orartswatch.org.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

MusicWatch Weekly: clarinets cut loose!

Chamber Music Northwest blows into town with windy festival-within-a-festival. Meanwhile, woe unto thee: you just missed Makrokosmos V.

“Good afternoon! I’m David Shifrin, and I play the clarinet!” A big roomful of laughing clarinetists goes “woooo!” and welcomes the Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director to Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall for the first of the festival’s five New@Noon concerts. It’s the last Friday in June, it’s breezy and just uncomfortably warm enough, and we’re up here in the Performance Hall—instead of down in the recital hall by the statue in the basement, where the New@Noon shows are usually held—because of that roomful of clarinetists. “We have a hundred clarinetists here,” Shifrin said, a gigantic smile on his face, “and it’s a joyous occasion.”

David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.
David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.

Earlier that week

Last Friday, I told you all about the lovely afternoon and evening you could have down at Reed College the following Monday. CMNW’s all-Mozart opening concert was as purply as promised: a warm breezy day, a cool evening, and all the Mozart you could stand—culminating in the delirious birdsong laden romp through the countryside which was Shifrin and Protégé Project Artists Rolston String Quartet ripping through the majory-as-cherry-pie Clarinet Quintet in A Major.

The best music of the evening, though, didn’t feature clarinets much at all: the Notturni for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone, and Three Basset Horns. This combination, when it held steady (two of the basset hornists occasionally switched to plain vanilla Bb clarinets), was so extraordinarily luscious it made me want to hear everything arranged this way. Nottorni, cantatas, arias, art songs, requiems, whole operas, all of it.

Extra points to soprano Vanessa Isiguen and mezzo Hannah Penn (the latter fresh off two runs of Laura Kaminsky’s As One) for supporting both each other and baritone Zachary Lenox, all while blending with the weirdo horns, selling the hell out of Mozart’s sweet, smeary, summery harmonies, and just generally kicking ass.

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Oregon Bach Festival: riding out the storm

Venerable music institution mounts its 49th summer festival amid leadership transition and uncertain future

The 49th Oregon Bach Festival has lately been looking a bit like a Blah-ch Festival. If the venerable University of Oregon music institution is ever to regain the cultural primacy it once enjoyed in its glory days, I’m afraid we’ll need to wait for new artistic and executive leadership. Happily, that’s on the way, with the festival having laid off controversial executive director Janelle McCoy and reversed her much-derided decision to institute a rotating directorship or leadership by committee (the last two years), instead of replacing the respected artistic director she railroaded out of town for never-explained reasons

This year’s program, like last year’s, was put together by an artistic committee of music faculty and other UO personnel chaired by McCoy. Her job was made no easier by university-imposed cutbacks that left the festival nearly bereft of star power and big splashy productions and commissions. Yet some highlights shine — if you know where to look.

Beyond Bach

While named after an 18th century master, the festival does provide some space for new sounds, or updates on old ones. My top recommendation for the entire festival: Portland composer and jazz pianist Darrell Grant’s The Territory, which we reviewed here after its second Portland performance. Kudos to the festival for featuring a major recent work by a top Oregon composer. Grant and jazz ensemble perform in Soreng Theater July 12.

On July 2 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, one of America’s most acclaimed new music ensembles, Brooklyn Rider string quartet, plays one of the greatest of all chamber works, Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet, plus five new commissions on the subject of healing written by some of today’s leading composers (all of whom happen to be women): Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Matana Roberts and recent Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw and Du Yun.

Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Portland Cello Project has been making a classical instrument hip for over a decade. They also play Beethoven, but mostly new music, and it more often comes from hip hop, rock and other pop artists. A big draw wherever it goes in on its many tours, the ensemble returns to OBF June 29 with a program featuring music by Radiohead, John Coltrane, and more — including, of course, J.S. Bach himself. 

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