portland contemporary music

Freshening the Streams

New music performed live from Oregon increasingly fills the home screen


The University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s live-streamed Eugene premiere of Ethan Gans-Morse and Tiziana DellaRovere’s chamber opera Tango of the White Gardenia marks a modest milestone in Oregon live music webcasting. (Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review and click here to stream at 7:30 pm tonight, Monday, October 1. ) This fall, the UO, Portland State University, and Lewis and Clark College have upped their streaming games, bringing to audiences near and far not only old and recent sounds, but also freshly composed music just off the engraver’s press.

A digital concert hall brings home live music from around the world. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Live from Eugene

The University of Oregon is at the forefront of live streaming in the state with its professional quality multi-camera webcasting of concerts live from Beall Concert Hall and single camera student originated webcasts from Aasen-Hull and Thelma Schnitzer concert halls.

This year, as in the past, the School’s event calender continues to add webcast concerts with possible performances by the University Symphony, Oregon Wind and Jazz Ensembles, Future Music Oregon, Oregon Chamber Choir, Track-Town Trombones, Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble and more. Many of these performances often lean to the contemporary side of the repertoire, as in this Beall Hall performance of UO Faculty member Pius Cheung’s Tesla’s Harmony for mallet quartet performed by the UO Percussion Ensemble.

Many of the school’s concerts emerge from the Oregon Composers Forum. For example, the upcoming OCF webcast special at 4 pm November 4, will feature Grammy Award winning soprano Estelí Gomez performing music composed for her by Forum members.


Third Angle New Music review: Music as meditation

Portland ensemble's showcase of music and radio conversations between John Cage and Morton Feldman reveals parallels between pioneering 20th century American composers


American composers John Cage (1912-1992) and Morton Feldman (1926-1987) met at a New York Philharmonic performance of Anton von Webern’s Symphony Op 20 in 1950. After the concert, the then-24-year-old Feldman came up to Cage—a stranger, despite Feldman recognizing his face—and said, “wasn’t that beautiful?”

For both composers Webern offered a model for a new music, a new way of thinking, which was non-linear, abstract, unpredictable—a fusion of intuition and discipline.

Feldman and Cage.

Feldman and Cage.

Webern’s Movement for String Trio, Op. posth (1945), the composer’s final work, began Third Angle New Music’s March 11 concert at Portland’s Zoomtopia. Reflecting on Cage and Feldman’s first acquaintance, Webern’s distilled dissonances echoed throughout the evening. Interpolated with excerpts from Cage and Feldman’s recorded conversations from the 1960s, Third Angle’s concert offered a mosaic of the composers’ music. As Cage and Feldman noted in their conversations, to be a composer was to be “deep in thought.” This meditative abstraction is established in Webern’s opening act and is reiterated in Cage’s and Feldman’s works at key points in their lives. This concert, involving spoken dialogues and cross-historical compositions placed our attention upon the underlying forces of the composers’ creative process. And it highlighted—personally, artistically, and historically—how these two unique artists intimately overlap.


Words & Music: Ambitious Oregon productions combine stories and sounds

'Attachments & Detachments,' 'Boldly Launched Upon the Deep,' and 'Oregon Stories' weave stories and sounds

Oregon is all about stories. Maybe the rain helps, but for whatever reason, we’re known as one of the most literary states in the union. Check Portland’s downtown Powell’s bookstore even on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll find it teeming with people seeking stories.

Of course stories appear in other art forms besides books — films, operas, songs. Not so much in instrumental music, however. Yet lately, we’ve seen a slew of contemporary music performances that explicitly connect new music to storytelling in various ways, including just in recent weeks:

I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty of others, but it’s clear that there’s a trend toward connecting storytelling to new classical and jazz music in Oregon these days. Why?

Delgani Quartet's Man of Words concert.

Delgani Quartet’s Man of Words concert combined music and theatrical dialogue.

Both jazz and contemporary classical music have gone from being relatively mainstream art forms to niche interests over the past half century or so, and one reason is their emphasis on art for art’s sake, too often privileging artistic process and innovation over audience connection. It’s not necessarily an either/or proposition — much of the greatest music both innovates and connects — but maybe this craving for story represents a desire to re-connect new music to lived human experience rather than indulge in abstract soundscapes, abstruse musical processes, and concept-dominated art.

Yet when performers add words to music in unfamiliar ways (not opera, not songs), they enter a different realm than the usual music concert. Even the most compelling words and music don’t necessarily compel interest without some sense of how they work together dramatically on stage. Three recent Oregon performances showed the risks and rewards of mixing stories with sounds.


Golden Retriever review: Fashion over form

Portland ensemble's large-scale show is heavy on stamina and virtuosity, light on contrast and form


Hell, in all aspects this should have been my thing:

1. I’m a Millennial and Golden Retriever came to their October 20 show at Portland’s Old Church armed with a synthesizer and enough microphones to give the American people a voice.

2. I’m an avant-garde nerd who has equal wet dreams to Kronos Quartet as to Sonic Youth and they hired a classical string quartet and chamber ensemble of improvisers.

So that leaves us with the question: How did the whole night still end up being a clusterfuck of godawful-ry?

Golden Retriever's Sielaff & Carlson.

Golden Retriever’s Sielaff & Carlson.

Culture creates music and music creates culture and culture creates music and music creates culture. . . It’s the chicken and the egg / nurture versus nature / art imitates life therefore life imitates art conundrum, they are impossibly interwoven and you sound a bit foolish bothering to distinguish between them. Music subcultures are as important as the music those subcultures surround, for those people are the human embodiment of the music; they are the living, breathing incarnate aesthetic of their chosen music’s emotional quality. When someone’s walking down the street rocking their Slayer shirt you know what they’re about: metal ass shit.

So, upon arrival I quickly realized I was in for a show that so badly wanted to be cool. Wanted to be cool above anything else, including creating or listening to emotionally engaging music. Walking through the door I had to initiate the transaction with the ticket collector who wouldn’t talk, make eye contact, or confirm or deny that the transaction was over, because being the gatekeeper to this sanctuary of cool he needed complete apathy. . . obviously.

It seemed a majority of the audience members were there to maintain an image. Problematically their image is bought on trust fund money and adorned like an article of clothing from Filson, J. Crew, or Anthropologie with the tags cutout to look thrifted. Never have I seen so many different styles of elegantly disheveled heads of hair tousling around conversing about which music festival or estate they just came from. It’s a sadly common misconception – the poor souls – that cool is an image, something to be purchased when its trendy. Cool has forever been and will forever be about genuineness, a trait very few there wore well.

Performers assemble on stage. Lights go down. Audience shuffles and coughs. And I’m just sitting there rage-coring in a church pew and the music starts.

I’m prepared to hate everything by this point, but I don’t.