Peter Frajola

Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.

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A joyful front-yard noise

Concert hall? Who needs a concert hall? A classical combo puts on a show in the neighborhood – and rocks out in the process


PHOTOS AND STORY BY JOE CANTRELL


Editor’s note: The thing about music is, people do it together. The thing about Our Current Reality is, people are apart. No concert halls open = no concerts. No matter how much musicians want to get together and make music, social distancing and the long arm of state restrictions say no. And no matter how much audiences want to hear their favorite musicians playing in real time and real space, simple logistics say, not now.

What are they going to do? Put on a concert in the front yard?

Well, yes.

That’s exactly what a select group of prominent Portland musicians of the classical persuasion, tired of hanging around doing études and scales in their parlors and basements, did on Saturday afternoon along a Northeast Portland residential street, with an equally select audience of friends and neighbors and the odd cat or dog or big stuffed teddy bear in a red wagon.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was among the crowd, and along with the photos below filed this report to ArtsWatch, in an email prominently headed THE TALE WAGNER DOGS, or A FRONT YARD CONCERT IN NEPDX:

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“Punsters gotta pun: Seems like there’s another Götterdämmerung around every corner these days, but this was in the middle of the perfect suburban block, far from the corners and farther from destruction. It was the opposite: talented generous people coming as together as the Centers for Disease Control allows to make fun music and be healed, or at least relieved. And as one who went there feeling bleak and disheartened but left joyful, yr fthfl srvnt confirms it worked.

“Five months ago, as the novel coronavirus’ damage spread, the Oregon Symphony canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 live performances; people could not sit side by side in the Schnitz until the disease abated. In response, individual members of the symphony gave seven solo or ensemble performances in their yards, sometimes from their porches. These recitals were quickly put together and publicized only in localized areas to avoid crowding and potential spread of COVID-19. One of those performances was in a particularly homey Northeast Portland neighborhood where two violinists and a trombonist put on a gem for their neighbors. There have been sporadic, scattered individual performances since then, but not many. However, in the words of the immortal cellist Nancy Ives, ‘Performers gotta perform.’

“So this Saturday afternoon, five friends got together again to play music probably/possibly* written before they were born, except this wasn’t Haydn and Vivaldi. It was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, sort of Blues, and some kindy country sangin’ that had been composed by the musicians themselves. No amps, no electricity involved except that which bound them and the assembled-at-masked-distance neighborhood in the magical charge that music brings. They said they were going to play 45 minutes, topped an hour, and the audience demanded and got an encore. Bravo to all: the smiling eyes above the masks showed that as unanimous.

“*Rough estimate by a geezer in attendance, but they all looked like kids to him.”

“Cat, a tonic sitting in the picture window next door watching unusual human behavior. She requested Alice in Chains but we told her Alice was occupied elsewhere in a nap.”

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Making music in a time of isolation

As the world shuts down and the Oregon Symphony faces a stark financial crisis, musicians create a series of mini-concerts from home


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


AS AN ODD AND NERVOUS QUIET SETTLED over greater Portland and most other places from coast to coast in the past several days, small islands of sound broke the spell, scattered here and there like grace notes or staccato exclamations. They were counter-ripples against a tide of silence, little bursts of defiant pleasure, sounding carefully yet emphatically: Even in a time of plague, the music would not die.

These small musical uprisings were especially compelling considering the Oregon Symphony Orchestra’s announcement last Friday that it was suspending its current season, which was to run into June, and laying off its 76 contracted musicians, along with 19 staff members and two conductors. The situation, symphony President and CEO Scott Showalter told The Oregonian/Oregon Live, is dire. “We need emergency funds now,” he told reporter Nathan Rizzo. “What we’re staring down between now and the end of June is a $5 million loss.” Showalter had written to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Rizzo added, urging state economic support for the orchestra as the coronavirus crisis takes its toll, and the symphony is actively seeking private funds as well. The danger of collapse, it seems, is very real. And the orchestra is not alone. Across Oregon and the nation, cultural groups of all sorts are staring nervously into what seems a daunting economic abyss.

An invitation to the neighborhood: come close, stay apart, join us at a distance as we make some music.

So on Friday through Sunday, in what was not quite a coincidence, a large handful of those recently furloughed symphony musicians went small. In Portland and its surrounds, seven musical mini-events took place, on musicians’ porches and in their yards, at neutral neighborhood gathering spots where listeners and players alike could keep their social distance and yet also be together, sharing something both sophisticated and elemental: the joy of music.

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