portland piano international festival

MusicWatch Weekly: American classics

American songbook standards, piano classics, opera, and more in this week's Oregon music recommendations

Every summer, The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music approaches its two-week series of concerts, films, talks and more from different angles, but the Eugene festival’s perennial subject — American pop music from the 1920s to just before the rise of rock — somehow remains inexhaustible. Wednesday’s opening sampler ingeniously takes the form of an innovation that emerged toward the end of songbook era and helped extend it: the TV variety show. Siri Vik leads a sextet of singers and Torrey Newhart directs a sextet of jazz musicians in songs by Loesser, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Edith Piaf standards, even an opera aria.

The festival’s production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls closed last weekend, but you can hear a different new production at Broadway Rose Theatre starting this weekend. And there’s more Loesser (sorry) Thursday afternoon in a concert featuring four vocalists and a dectet playing some of his greatest hits, including “Let’s Get Lost,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Believe in You,” the recently controversial “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and more, including some Guys and Dolls standards.

That night, vibes master Chuck Redd joinsVik and an ace jazz quintet to play American Songbook standards and others refracted through a jazz prism by midcentury stars like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, and Lionel Hampton. Vik returns with a quintet (including cello and violin) Friday afternoon for the major departure from the American-centric program: mid-centurystandards made famous by French chanteuse Édith Piaf.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling leads a standards-fueled jazz party and more at the Shedd.

Friday night’s jazz concert is based on a book — a famous 1970s collection of jazz arrangements of standards from musicals by Rodgers & Hart, Porter, Jerome Kern and more that inspired the career of longtime Shedd pianist Vicki Brabham. That afternoon’s talk by fellow Shedd vet Ian Whitcomb also contains a recital of his top ten 20th century songs — most from the 1910s and ‘20s, few that make most other lists of standards.

Saturday night’s jazz quartet concert features classics by George Gershwin, including pianist Ted Rosenthal’s solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and jazz versions of Gershwin tunes. Saturday afternoon boasts a community singalong, and Sunday afternoon a cabaret-style jazz party/jam led by Redd that samples songbook standards from the rest of the fest and more.

The Tuesday August 7 show is sort-of curated by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, whose (sometimes fluffy) faves inform the American Songbook program put together by trumpet master Byron Stripling and performed by singers Vik and Julliette Holliday with octet. Remember that the festival also offers a host of free talks, films of the era, and more.

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice closes Saturday at Newmark Theatre, ending the company’s summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review.

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MusicWatch Weekly: comings and goings

Summer festivals open and close, and Oregon's musical week also features other concerts indoors and out

Portland’s summer music scene would feel incomplete without Portland SummerFest Opera in the Park, the annual free, family friendly opera performance in Washington Park Amphitheater, with the audience arrayed on their blankets gazing down at singers and orchestra on the amphitheater stage. In Saturday’s Tosca, veteran conductor Keith Clark leads an abridged concert performance (that is, no props, just singing and playing) that features singers who’ve starred on stages at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and beyond. Soprano Angela Brown (who’s also sung with many major orchestras and opera companies) sings the title role in Puccini’s popular perennial, with Portland’s own Met vet Richard Keller as the villainous Scarpia, bass baritone Deac Guidi, tenor Allan Glassman, chorus and orchestra.

Angela Brown stars in ‘Tosca’ at Portland SummerFest.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which opens Friday at Newmark Theatre, closes its summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Portland SummerFest brings ‘Tosca’ to Washington Park. Photo: Tasha Miller.

One of Oregon’s summer music treasures, Portland Piano Summer Festival, begins Monday and runs through August 3 at Lewis & Clark College. This year’s festival adds a new series of Kaleidoscope Lectures that “explore the world of music as it relates to science, language, and art, guided by experts in relevant fields,” including subjects like music and the brain, the birth of Romanticism, and, on Monday evening, Constance Jackson’s talk on Music and Meaning. The annual summer immersion in pianistic performance this time includes acclaimed pianist Tanya Gabrielian playing Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Gershwin, and Chopin on Monday. The next evening, she talks about composers and mental illness before Alexander Shtarkman tackles a great Beethoven sonata, Brahms’s quartet of Ballades, and Chopin’s two dozen Op. 28 Preludes. We’ll tell you about the rest of the fest next week.

The view from Mt. Angel Abbey.

Another Oregon summer music glory, the Mt. Angel Abbey Bach Festival, returns for its 47th season at the beautiful abbey near Silverton. Wednesday and Friday’s concerts have been sold out for awhile, but tickets remain Thursday’s performances by excellent Portland organist Douglas Schneider (featuring that most famous organ work by JS Bach) at 6 pm and for the evening concert by the Canadian duo of cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier, featuring more Bach, plus music by Schumann and one of Beethoven’s great cello sonatas.

Hunter Noack performs at Timothy Lake.

Tosca isn’t the only outdoor classical music event this week. On Thursday, Portland State University prof Ken Selden leads the Vancouver Symphony in a family-friendly, free outdoor concert in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park band shell featuring Shostakovich’s aptly titled Festive Overture, some of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, Copland’s Hoe Down (from his ballet score Rodeo) and music from Sleeping Beauty and Star Wars. And on Saturday, with Mt. Hood looming in the background, Portland pianist Hunter Noack brings his Steinway, wireless headphones, and engaging In a Landscape project to Cove Amphitheater on Timothy Lake.

Still another summer musical treat commences with Jacksonville’s annual Britt Orchestra Season, part of the Britt Music & Arts Festival. There will be one difference this year: due to wildfire smoke, these Britt Orchestra concerts have been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. Wednesday’s opening night concert features classics used in film, from Mozart, Wagner, John Williams, and more.

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By Jeff Winslow

Editor’s note: Portland-based composer Jeff Winslow attended many of the events in this month’s Portland International Piano Festival and filed this guest review.

Possibly in an attack of first-day jitters, the lights accidentally came up after Andreas Klein played Beethoven’s op. 7 sonata, the opening work of this year’s Portland International Piano Festival, while all stayed dark at the very end of his concert after the applause had died away. Maybe the glitches were a metaphor for the performance, which despite manifold points of interest and beauty seemed to show that Klein just wasn’t quite up to the job. Several times he wandered off into la-la land, and only recovered by skipping ahead or seamlessly circling back and taking a second run at it. When this happened only a few minutes into the Beethoven, I was shocked because he seemed so assured up to that point.

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Jacksonville’s Britt Festival classical concerts begin July 31

Oregon’s summer classical music festival season continues to blossom. The biggies — Oregon Bach Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, Portland Piano International Festival (PPIF)— are in the books, as are the smaller but still congenial classical music events that dot the coast — Astoria Music Festival, Newport Symphony’s SummerFestYachats Music Festival, Sound Waves Music Festival. Mt. Angel’s Abbey Bach Festival just wrapped up Friday and Coos Bay’s Oregon Coast Music Festival Saturday. Portlanders can still attend SummerFest opera in the park and Portland Festival Symphony’s classical concerts in various parks around town.

August’s major classical music events include Portland’s William Byrd Festival, which opens August 12 (about which more later), Central Oregon’s Sunriver Music Festival, and Southern Oregon’s Britt Festival, which offers a major classical program in addition to MOR and boomer faves like Smokey Robinson, Michael McDonald, Chris Botti, Chris Isaak, the B52s and so on.

Tonight’s Britt classical concert features the Arianna String Quartet playing intimate masterworks by Ravel, Schubert, and Grieg. Pianist Mûza Rubackyté plays Liszt and Tchaikovsky at next Friday’s official opening night gala. The Britt Orchestra takes over on Saturday, August 6 with Rimsky-Korsakov’s sublime Scheherezade and music by Verdi and Paganini.

The August 12 concert offers a mix of overfamiliar (Beethoven’s Symphony #5, Richard Strauss’s Don Juan) and commendably new — a concerto by one of America’s most justly popular orchestral composers, Jennifer Higdon. Guitar soloist Sharon Isbin arrives August 13 to join the orchestra in Joaquin Rodrigo’s inevitable (yet always appealing) masterpiece Concierto de Aranjuez; the concert also offers music by Sibelius and Kodaly.

On Friday August 19, the orchestra plays favorite overtures by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Brahms, plus a trombone concerto by Samuel Jones. The next evening is the annual family concert, and pianist Christopher O’Riley, recently in Portland at PPIF, joins the orchestra for music by Benjamin Britten, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms.

The 34th annual Sunriver Music Festival kicks off August 9 with guest conductor George Hansen (taking over from retiring longtime leader Lawrence Leighton Smith) leading the festival orchestra in a terrific program of American music by Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin — the “symphonic picture” Robert Russell Bennett created from his opera Porgy and Bess, which is now playing in Seattle, and the blistering Concerto in F featuring Pink Martini sparkplug Thomas Lauderdale (who nailed it in 2008 with the Oregon Symphony) as piano soloist. Hanson also leads the August 11 classical concert featuring music of Aaron Copland, Mendelssohn, and a dulcimer concerto (!) by Conni Ellisor. Singers Sarah Mattox and C ourtney Huffman take the spotlight for August 12ths’ opera favorites program: Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, Smetana and more.

Cliburn competition gold prize winner Haochen Zhang commands the keyboard in an August 15 recital. Music of Bach, Schumann and Schubert highlights the Tuesday, August 16 orchestra concert, and the festival closes August 17 with a fine all-Mozart program — Symphony #38, Piano Concert #23 and A Musical Joke.