oregon chorale

MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!

Cancellations, confirmations, and quarantine playlists

Bad news, everyone! No, it’s not quite the end of the world, at least not yet–and that’s probably the scariest thing of all. It seems we never quite hit Full Disaster, and if the Great Malthusian Dieoff really is underway it’s apparently content with taking its sweet time with us. Instead of a full-blown crisis, we get a series of morally debilitating crises which drain us but don’t ever amount to much (except for the people directly impacted by these subapocalyptic crises, of course, but they’re usually poor, old, foreign, or some other shade of invisible).

Not that we’re wishing for a full-blown crisis: but our minds sure go there in a hurry, don’t they? You’ve seen all the memes by now: on some level of our social psyche we find it easier to hoard toilet paper than to wash our hands more often. We don’t like the small, rational fixes. We like to dream big, and we like to nightmare big too. We like to panic. We like to ostrich.

That, paradoxically, is why the present author has been so gratified to see the concert cancellation notices pouring in. Denial and panic are two sides of the same apocalyptic coin, a rejection of measured responses in favor of whichever easy option is more comfortable (note that neither denial nor panic require much effort). Instead, everybody’s actually talking about it, weighing options and doing their own research, grappling with their social responsibilities, and coming to their own conclusions in the old contest between “safety is job one” and “the show must go on.”

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MusicWatch Holidays: Naughty and nice

Unwrapping Portland’s spiritual duality with holiday concerts for choirs, circuses, dancers, and drag queens

Ho ho ho! Oregon First Winter is fully upon us: the snow and ice and seasonal depression haven’t hit in full force yet, but it’s finally cold and rainy enough to talk about holiday music. Let’s get started with an old favorite:

Our wishlist of worthy concerts is twenty-plus items long this week (not counting the mezzanine), so we’re only going to talk about a select few–but we’ll leave the whole list for you at the end, dear reader, so you can decide for yourself who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

Choral joys, classical comforts

Nothing goes together like choirs and holiday music. Portland and environs may be known for a certain sassy grouchiness, but we’re also known for having more choral ensembles than Santa has ununionized elves. Almost all of them are celebrating the holiday season one way or another in the next few weeks, and although our darling Resonance Ensemble is off duty until early spring, the rest of the Oregon choir tribe is gearing up for year-end banquets of sparkly yuletide music.

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MusicWatch Weekly: virtuoso visits

Masters of piano, guitar, violin and more lead this week’s Oregon concert highlights

Back when musical minimalism was the young brash upstart, naysayers called the style simplistic, faddish, and worse. “Never last,” many pundits predicted. Wrong. Half a century on, the style echoes not just in the music of its still-vibrant pioneers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but also in the music of subsequent generations of composers who credit them as major influences, not to mention film and dance scores, even TV commercials.

I’ve seen a dozen different recent albums of pianists from around the world playing Glass’s solo piano music, and now, Seattle-based pianist Jesse Myers plays his gorgeous etudes for solo piano accompanied by colorful light projections designed for each piece.
Thursday, The Old Church, Portland.

Benjamin Grosvenor performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: operaomnia.co.uk.

• Portland Piano International brings another solo pianist, acclaimed young British virtuoso Benjamin Grosvenor, to play a pair of recitals featuring music by Schumann, Janacek, Prokofiev and Bellini.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

• Guitarist David Torn’s name is less well known than his guitar, which has graced albums by David Bowie, Jeff Beck, k.d. lang, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and many more, plus soundtracks (Adaptation, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Friday Night Lights, etc.). He’s also made some vibrant albums on the ECM label, and now has a trio with long-time collaborator and alto sax virtuoso (and Lewis & Clark College alum) Tim Berne and acclaimed percussionist Ches Smith. Sun of Goldfinger’s expansive new album is a wild, dizzying, sometimes overwrought whirlwind of electronic explorations, avant jazz, contemporary classical touches including string quartet, and general uproar. It’s worth seeing them live just to figure out how only three admittedly superb players can make so much music that sounds like nobody else.
Thursday, Holocene, Portland.

• Fortunately for Oregon, though he was born in England, fiddle master Kevin Burke’s appearances here no longer qualify as visits, though his virtuosity has never been in doubt. Burke has lived in Portland for many years and is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Neither Irish by birth nor residence, he’s won Ireland’s most prestigious music awards, both in competitions and for his work in some of folk music’s foremost groups, including the Bothy Band, Celtic Fiddle Festival and Patrick Street. He’s an ideal choice for a pre-St. Patrick’s Day concert in Eugene and St. Paddy’s Day itself in Portland.
Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Mandelring Quartet performs at Portland State University.

Friends of Chamber Music presents Germany’s much-praised Mandelring Quartet performing quartets by Shostakovich, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and Mendelssohn.
Monday and Tuesday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.

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MusicWatch Weekly: American holidays

Along with abundant traditional European Christmas music, Oregon concerts offer American angles on holiday music, music mixed with theater, film, dance, and more

Millions of Americans celebrate Christmas, but let’s face it, the Yuletide is hardly an American original. Sometimes it seems that about all we’ve contributed to a story that began in the Middle East and was St. Nicked by Europeans, is our characteristic commercialization of what was once a spiritual occasion.

Actually, Americans have over the years made the mid-winter holiday — like so many other cultural artifacts that originated elsewhere — our own through music, and you can hear some of it on Oregon stages this week.

• Based on the memoir by iconic Portland stripper / author Viva Las Vegas, Viva’s Holiday scored a surprisingly young and diverse audience in its 2015 and 2016 performances. Set in her family’s Minnesota home during a Christmas visit, Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s intimate, one-act Christmas opera recounts Viva’s declaration of independence from family expectations, socially approved careers, and occasionally clothing — a perfect Portland-style twist on standard holiday themes. Already revived once, Corbell’s lyrical music, which embraces both classical traditions and his own singer-songwriter background, has now received a splendid recording by a twelve-piece orchestra and four opera singers conducted by former Opera Theater Oregon artistic director Erica Melton. This Cult of Orpheus concert (i.e. unstaged) performance includes all the music, minus costumes, sets and stage action, plus a set by Portland’s early French sex music trio Bergerette (which has a close connection to Viva), plus a chance to buy the newly released CD. Let’s hope Santa brings a full re-staging during a future holiday season. Read ArtsWatch’s review and feature story about the original production.
Saturday, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• Violin deity Mark O’Connor, who’s developed an entire music ed curriculum that introduces American kids to music using our own folk traditions rather than centuries-old European pedagogy. Possibly the world’s greatest fiddler, the Seattle-born star brings the sound of his popular “Appalachia Waltz” combo to holiday music when his crack band and singer Brandy Clark perform the music from his hit 2011 album An Appalachian Christmas this week in Portland and Eugene. The Grammy-winning fiddle virtuoso (who’s also won major awards for his guitar and mandolin skill) composer (nine concertos, two symphonies, three string quartets and counting), studio musician, and educator may have worked with some of the world’s most renowned musicians, from Yo Yo Ma to Earl Scruggs to Wynton Marsalis, but he really enjoys playing with his family and friends. What better time to do that during the holidays? His O’Connor Band features his wife and fellow fiddler/ singer Peggy, champion mandolinist son Forrest, national flatpack champ guitarist Joe Smart, banjoist/bassist Geoff Saunders giving carols and other holiday standards given a warm, all American bluegrass/folk inflection.
Wednesday, McDonald Theatre, Eugene, and Friday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Mark O’Connor Family Band performs “An Appalachian Christmas” Wednesday in Eugene and Friday in Portland. Photo: All Classical Portland

Music & Theater & More

Along with Viva’s Holiday and Portland annual Christmas Revels, which is more theatrical than musical though worth seeing on both counts, on Sunday, Eugene Concert Choir presents its fully staged musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A Dickens of a Christmas includes plenty of seasonally appropriate sounds that you nevertheless don’t hear ad nauseam in stores and commercials everywhere this time of year. ECC artistic director Diane Retallack has placed the ghost of Christmas Past’s setting in a Renaissance Feast, with appropriate madrigals and carols performed by the costumed “Lords and Ladies” of Eugene Vocal Arts in Elizabethan attire and accompanied by Byrdsong Consort. The ghost of Christmas Present inhabits Dickens’s mid-19th century Britain, with English carols and other music of the period, including Arthur Sullivan’s (of Gilbert &) Handelian Festival Te Deum, accompanied by Eugene Concert Orchestra. The ghost of Christmas Future appears in a “raucous, kitschy look at contemporary culture” with flash mob, break dancing, circusy acrobatics, an Elvis impersonator, and Churchill High School’s Concert Choir. This colorful experience is more than just a concert, featuring costumes, sets, theatrical lighting and sound, action, pageantry, choreography and of course Dickens’s immortal story of Scrooge and the rest.

Eugene Vocal Arts members don Renaissance garb at Eugene Concert Choir’s ‘A Dickens of a Christmas.’

And don’t forget about this weekend’s concluding concerts in a couple other music-meets-theater runs we’ve told you about in earlier MusicWatches:

• Portland Opera to Go’s kid-friendly, bilingual production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, at Portland’s Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers Street, and

 The Shedd’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, at Eugene’s Jaqua Concert Hall, 285 E Broadway.

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MusicWatch Weekly: choral collaborations

Choirs join orchestras for major musical matchups on Oregon stages this week

Normally many of us have to wait till August’s William Byrd Festival to hear the fine Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia in a public concert. But on Sunday afternoon at the beautiful Mount Angel Abbey outside Silverton, you can hear them sing a couple of 20th century French choral classics — Maurice Duruflé’s consoling Requiem with organ and chamber orchestra, and Francis Poulenc’s unaccompanied, exhilarating Mass in G.

Blake Applegate leads Cantores in Ecclesia.

Small ensembles and soloists from Consonare Chorale sing songs about life’s serendipitous silver linings Saturday at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny.

Oregon Chorale continues to raise its artistic ambitions in its Saturday and Sunday concerts in Hillsboro, bringing in a full professional orchestra, PCC Rock Creek Chamber Singers, and four of Portland’s best vocal soloists – soprano Lindsey Cafferky, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, tenor Les Green, tenor, and bass-baritone Damien Geter — to help perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sugary Serenade to Music and Franz Schubert’s Mass No. 5.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Another choral-orchestral collaboration, Holst’s ever-popular The Planets, highlights the Vancouver Symphony’s season-closing concert with Vancouver USA Singers at Skyview Hall Saturday and Sunday. The how also features concertos starring the three gold medalists from its Young Artists Competition, and the Holst is enhanced by  award winning real-time high definition NASA animations and stills on big screens.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Pacific voices

Choral concerts featuring contemporary sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is hosting the Beijing Queer Chorus — China’s first LGBTQ choir — in a week-long community residency that culminates in a pair of public concerts.

Beijing Queer Chorus performs Friday and Saturday at Reed College.

Friday and Saturday’s Pacific Voices shows at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium feature both original and traditional music from across the Pacific region, including Mexico, Ecuador, New Zealand (a Maori traditional song), Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, the Philippines, a Taiwanese aboriginal tune, and of course songs from China and Oregon. PGMC will return the favor with a tour of China this summer.

Another choral tradition comes to Oregon with Cappella Romana’s performances of The Akáthistos Hymn Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. Composed for the fine Portland vocal ensemble, British composer/priest/conductor Ivan Moody’s 1998 setting of the ancient poem to the virgin Mary (which he’s coming from London to conduct here) combines Byzantine chant melodies, Russian choral textures, and original tunes in a solemn, soaring and ultimately rousing rendition.

The Oregon Chorale celebrates home and family in its concerts in Beaverton Saturday and Hillsboro on Sunday. The contemporary choral program includes Eat Your Vegetables, a fun three-movement piece (one titled “Aversion to Carrots”) by Seattle composer John Muehleisen, whose music is getting a lot of Oregon play lately, plus other contemporary music by Eric Whitacre, Lee Hoiby, Sydney Guillaume, Dan Forrest and more.

The premiere of Muehleisen’s Pleaides’ Path highlights Consonare Chorale’s St. Paddy’s day concert at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny St. Along with the Seattle composer’s new setting of a text by Consonare music director Georgina Philippson, the program does include the obligatory Irish reference (“Little Potato”), as well as The Peace of Wild Things (composed Jake Runestad, one of today’s hottest choral composers, whom you’ll be hearing more about here shortly), works by an Estonian composer named Pärt — no, not that one, but Pärt Uusberg — and more.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Whitacre’s music, along with compositions by Northwest native Morten Lauridsen, the late American composer David Maslanka, Williametta Spencer and more at Clark College Concert Band and Concert Choir’s free concert Saturday at the college. On Wednesday, the college orchestra’s concert features one of the area’s finest singers, Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson, in Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling, plus music by Darius Milhaud, Paul Dukas, Rossini and more.

Symphonic Sounds

Speaking of symphonic music, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays a new Concerto for Chamber Orchestra by the winner of this year’s winner of PCSO/Cascadia Composers Composition Competition, Sean Osborn. The concerts, Friday at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Sunday at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theatre, also include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor with soloist Sara Davis Buechner.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Play it, Sam

On the 88th day the pianos will play, all over town. Plus: The Japanese Garden reopens, Brett Campbell's music tips, new theater & dance

Wednesday, in case you haven’t been counting, will be the 88th day of 2017.

A piano, as you probably know, has 88 keys.

And that seems like an excellent excuse to throw a big piano party, which is exactly what Portland Piano International is doing with its minimalistically named Piano Day. Portland’s Piano Day, PPI declares, is the first in the United States. The celebration first struck a chord in Germany two years ago when pianist Nils Frahm proclaimed March 29 as Piano Day, and it’s crescendoed rapidly to Japan, Slovenia, Australia, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, France, and elsewhere.

Dooley Wilson at the keyboard, playing “As Time Goes By” in the 1942 Warner Bros. movie “Casablanca.”

So what’s happening? Piano playing. Lots of it, by lots of pianists (no, not Francis Scott Key or Alicia Keys), in lots of styles, from noon to 10 p.m. in four locations: Portland City Hall downtown, All Classical Portland radio headquarters in the Portland Opera building at the east end of the Tilikum Crossing bridge, Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland, and TriMet’s Oregon Zoo MAX Station. Listening’s free, but the pianists are also taking donations for PPI and educational programs, and a little payback is a good thing. Play it, Sam.

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