Portland Columbia Symphony

The eyes have it: Art of the camera

ArtsWatch Weekly: Photography gets (beyond) real, the art museum reshuffles the deck, true tales of equity, Ashland's indie film fest, more

“IF ONLY I HAD THOUGHT OF A KODAK!” H.G. Wells’s vexed and haunted Time Traveller exclaims in the classic science-fiction novel The Time Machine. “I could have flashed that glimpse of the Under-world in a second, and examined it at leisure.” Ah, to create in a moment and examine at leisure. Photography, in the popular imagination, is the utilitarian art, the engineer of art forms, a documenter of what already exists: As Sgt. Joe Friday is supposed to have said laconically on the radio and television series Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” In fact, though, while documentation is a crucial element of the photographic art form, it is rarely “mere” documentation. A photo has a frame, and a frame provides, quite literally, a point of view. What’s more, that “perfect accident” of a shot might have taken hours of preparation and years of experience to achieve. In the 180-plus years since the introduction of the daguerrotype in 1839, photography has developed into a full-fledged art form, with rich and varied approaches that include but are far from limited to literal description of the physical world. A photographer’s limits are roughly the same as any other artist’s: How far can her skills and imagination take her?

Left: “Falling Apart” (self-portrait), Laura Kurtenbach. Right: “House of Atlas” (from the series “Short Stories/Tall Tales”), Grace Weston.

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Dramatic? It’s like an opera out there

ArtsWatch Weekly: Where's Frida; how to (maybe) reopen; farewell to Ross McKeen; puppets; comics; art that tells stories & more

AS WE ZOOM PAST THE ONE-YEAR MARK IN ENFORCED ISOLATION, shutdowns have caused havoc everywhere, sometimes straining well-run organizations and sometimes exposing structural weaknesses that pre-existed the pandemic. Being big can be a problem in itself: You might begin with a bigger bankroll, but the larger a group’s budget, the harder it is to shift direction, and the more a shutdown stands to imperil the entire operation. Being small can mean you’re nimble, but it can also make it tough to scrape up the wherewithall to hunker in and just survive for a while.

Portland Opera’s “Frida”: heading to the great outdoors? Photo: Keith Blakoff/Long Beach Opera

How’s that playing out in the world of opera? Herein ArtsWatch presents a new three-act contemporary work, which we’ll refrain from calling Stayin’ Alive:

ACT ONE: New York’s Metropolitan Opera is undergoing monumental convulsions, as Julia Jacobs reports in The New York Times, with 40 percent of its laid-off musicians leaving the expensive New York area, and abrasive battles being waged between management and unions. Massive debt is being piled up, veteran musicians are choosing to retire, and shop work is being farmed out to non-union companies as management pushes for big salary cuts. (Subtheme: Conductor and music director James Levine, the leading artistic force at the Met for almost a half-century until being fired in 2018 over multiple allegations of sex abuse and harassment, died at age 77 on March 9, it was reported Wednesday.)

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A Young Puppet’s Guide to the Orchestra

Portland Columbia Symphony’s ‘Meet the Instruments’ series pairs puppets and players to introduce kids to classical music

Halloween was nigh, and Nicole Buetti thought the kids in her Los Angeles neighborhood might enjoy some scary music. But the creepy tunes she was blasting out at the haunt turned out to be a little too scary for some of the younger children. One friend suggested that Buetti — a composer, music teacher, erstwhile emo band member, and bassoonist — create a slightly less intense children’s CD for Halloween. 

After releasing My Halloween, bubbling with catchy kids’ songs, in 2008, she and her partner–who both worked in the movie trailer business–wanted to make the music even more accessible to children. Like so many nascent songwriters, they realized that the then-new YouTube might be a good place to post the songs–which meant providing a visual element. Some of her own favorite kids music came from Jim Henson’s classic Muppets series. Why not make a puppet who could sing their songs? 

Put together a composer with a post-Halloween idea, a passel of puppets, and the Portland Columbia Symphony. Add YouTube and instruments. Voila!
Nicole Buetti & Nirks

Off to the garage she marched, scrounging for materials. One foam Nerf ball, one feather tuft and an improvised eyeball later, Vincent the cyclopean singing puppet was born. Shortly thereafter, he and his song, written by Buetti, made his YouTube debut. “It kinda spun out of control from there,” she recalls. “My father played a big role. He said, ‘Stop just writing about Halloween.’” 


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


There followed a homegrown production company (In a World Music), a menagerie of fellow puppets called The Nirks (named after the creators, Nicole and Dirk Montapert), a series of science-related videos, a ginormous YouTube following. And, beginning this weekend, a new 16-part series of original videos introduces elementary school-aged children (and kids of all ages) to the instruments of the orchestra through fun songs, stories, and personalities, with Buetti’s original compositions performed by musicians from the Portland Columbia Symphony. The first episode premiered today, with subsequent episodes released weekly through mid-June.

Meet the Instruments is a project I have been wanting to do for a long time,” says Buetti, who now lives across the Columbia River from Oregon in Vancouver. “Thanks to the support of PCSO and a few generous donors, I have the opportunity to combine my love of puppetry with my commitment to music education and my passion for music.”

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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.

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MusicWatch Weekly: time of the season

As autumn approaches, Oregon orchestras and ensembles play seasonal sounds and more

Yes, the Zombies no doubt played their iconic 1967 hit at Monday’s show at Revolution Hall, but there’s more seasonal music in the air this week. One of those iconic Portland fall traditions is to bring the family and some blankets and marvel at the annual cyclonic return of the migratory Vaux’s Swifts to that chimney at Northwest Portland’s Chapman Elementary School. In their season-opening Song of the Swifts shows, FearNoMusic brings one of New York’s best known new music pianists, Kathleen Supové to play music that touches on themes of migration — and not just by birds.

Kathleen Supové.

Musicians and other artists have joined the response to Republican politicization of immigration, which turned human suffering into human tragedy. For the last year or so, the Portland new music ensemble has been programming contemporary classical music that squarely or obliquely addresses some of today’s most pressing social issues. This time it’s migration. Supové, who grew up in Portland, plays three world premieres (by Portland’s own Jay Derderian, her partner and well known composer Randall Woolf, and Paula Matthusen), composed for Sunday’s pop up concert, which happens a few blocks from the Chapman School chimney that has long been a gathering place for the birds, and for Portlanders who love watching them circle, cavort and finally take the plunge. The performance also features video and visual art.

Those three premieres repeat at Monday’s concert at the Old Church, which also pairs Supové with FNM musicians in migration and/or bird-related music by young Portland composer Katie Palka, the great Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Michi Wiancko, and Takashi Yoshimatsu.

Tomas Cotik performs with Portland Chamber Orchestra.

• As we head into fall, Portland Chamber Orchestra combines the most famous Four Seasons (Vivaldi’s familiar violin concertos) with an equally colorful 20th century successor. In The Eight Seasons, Portland State prof and Astor Piazzolla expert Tomas Cotik joins the ensemble in his fellow Argentine’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which uses Vivaldi’s model and Piazzolla’s own pulsating nuevo tango music to paint a vibrant musical portrait of his bustling hometown. The Sunday afternoon show at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel also features longtime Oregon coast resident Ernest Bloch’s moving Prayer for Cello and Strings (with more Bloch coming next week) and Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies.

• The Oregon Symphony opens its classical season Sunday with maybe the world’s starriest soprano, Renée Fleming, and it’s a credit to both that instead of the usual familiar arias, the concert presents an attractive, substantive program of 20th century classical and theater music along with Richard Strauss’s 1888 tone poem Don Juan. The big news is Kevin Puts’s orchestral song cycle, Letters from Georgia, composed for Fleming in 2016. Puts, a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s one of the most listener friendly of contemporary classical composers, sets five letters the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe wrote to her future husband Alfred Stieglitz or her close friend Anita Politzer that describe New Mexican desert beauty, her own feelings about love and music, and more. What I’ve heard would certainly appeal to Aaron Copland fans, and there’s actual Copland (tunes from his opera The Tender Land) on the program too, as well as a pair of stirring American overtures: Samuel Barber’s 1931 overture to The School for Scandal, and Leonard Bernstein’s inevitable, and irresistible, Candide overture, plus show tunes from Sting, Kander & Ebb, Meredith Willson, Stephen Sondheim, and more — that rare star program that would be almost as appealing even without the star’s celebrity name and talent.

Renée Fleming and Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar take their bows.

• While the Oregon Symphony goes mostly American, Portland Columbia Symphony trends Russian in its Friday and Sunday shows at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater. There’s yet another seasonal number, “Autumn” from Glazunov’s The Seasons, Rachmaninoff’s big second piano concerto starring Robert Henry, and a suite from Stravinsky’s enchanting The Firebird ballet score.

• Rachmaninoff takes center stage — or is that altar? — at this weekend’s Cappella Romana concerts Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, respectively. The superb choir sings one of the 20th century’s choral masterpieces, All-Night Vigil, (sometimes called Vespers) along with psalms and hymn settings by Rachmaninoff’s Russian predecessors, placing the composer’s music in the context of a more complete Orthodox Vigil.

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