portland state choirs

MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet

Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

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Storming Viking Pavilion

PSU brings choral music’s first ‘rock star’ and 500 singers to campus basketball arena

One night in 1999, Ethan Sperry heard five minutes of music that changed his life. At choral music’s biggest annual event, the American Choral Directors Association conference, the 28-year-old choral director was transfixed by Minnesota’s famed St. Olaf Choir’s performance of Eric Whitacre’s Water Night, a setting of a poem by Nobel Prize winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

“It changed my life and the life of all the thousands of choir directors at that conference,” recalled Sperry, who has directed Portland State University’s choral programs for the past decade. “We were all talking about it. Here was a new language in writing for choir, and a new way of setting poetry. Not only was there a new voice in choral music, but also somebody bringing new secular poetry into the realm of choral music,” which typically relied on Latin or other dead poets’ texts. Sperry, only a year younger than the then little-known Nevada-born composer, heard “something extremely profound about what he was doing at a young age,” he said. “It was the first time I’d been moved so much by music written by someone my own age.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: Big and small

Big bands, big choirs, chamber classical, and hybrid music from Indonesia and the British Isles

Well, I just got back from hearing Third Angle play Eve Beglarian, Lee Hyla, David Lang, and a bunch of other sweet stuff down in the cozy Jack London Revue basement underneath the billiard tables. You know how sometimes when you’re watching a big band play a long set there’ll be a few players in the corps who have some classical tricks up their sleeves, and when the rest of the band takes a break one of those soloists might come downstage and rip out a crazy impressive solo, maybe a bit of Bach or Wuorinen, the sort of stuff they don’t usually get to play in jazz clubs? 3A’s Back in the Groove was exactly like that. A whole evening of it.

Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann saved the best, grooviest, flashiest music for herself, like a boss–but like a good boss, you know? The rare type of boss who approves all your sick days, keeps meetings on topic, knows how to use Excel, and not only can fix the copier but actually does. Clarinetist James Shields and saxophonist Sean Fredenburg both killed it–the latter tearing his way through Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, the former playing Reich’s New York Counterpoint along with his own fifteen-year-old undergrad backing tracks, the pair of ’em barking at each other in Lee Hyla’s gnarly, groovy, gloriously incomprehensible We Speak Etruscan–but it was Tiedemann’s graceful performance of the fiendishly difficult (but oh so melodic!) music of Jacob TV and Eve Beglarian that had us shooting coffee out our noses in shocked delight.

Anyways, you’ll hear all about the rest of this lovely show from me soon enough. Right now you’ve got new concerts to read about–big bands and small bands and sludgey bands and tribes of singers and song collectors–and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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MusicWatch Weekly: generation next

Music by and for young Oregonians highlights this week's concerts

It’s probably too late for the next generations to save our planet from the greed and selfishness of their elders, but at least they’ll have music to console them. Young musicians, like young Americans in general, do give me what little hope remains for our future. This month offers numerous opportunities to hear music by and for young Oregonians.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays new and old music this weekend.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony teams up with Fear No Music’s valuable Young Composers Project in the inaugural performance of its new series of student commissions called “The Authentic Voice,” presented and performed by MYS. Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall features Tone Poem No. 1: Orpheus and Eurydice, a brand new piece composed and conducted by high school senior Jake Safirstein, one of three composers who this year receive supportive training in a series of private lessons and small group workshops led by Fear No Music’s master musicians in addition to orchestral readings with MYS’s Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes Italian-themed music by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, plus music that’s delighted kids for decades when it appeared in Fantasia: Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Saturday concert in the same venue offers a rare opportunity to hear music by the dean of African American classical composers, William Grant Still, whose still-appealing music, often drawing on folk traditions, was underplayed in his lifetime because of racism, orchestras’ snobbish disdain for American composers, and mid-century trend-setters’ fear of music that could be enjoyed by broad audiences. That included Still’s 1957 American Scene: Five Suites for Young Americans, one of those worthy but neglected works by African American composers that Damien Geter wrote about in his ArtsWatch story last month. Along with its The Far West section, PYP will play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist 17-year-old violinist Aaron Greene, winner of PYP’s 2018-19 Soloist Competition, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. Next month, we’ll tell you about FNM’s own concert pertaining to children and our future.

Violinist Aaron Greene performs with Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo: Brian Clark

• We’re getting an early jump on next Wednesday’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras Breaking the Cage, a multi-media event at Portland’s Old Church featuring collective compositions by the young BRAVO musicians (some with personal connections to immigration) responding to the cruel detentions and family separations perpetrated by the government at America’s southwestern border. Along with ashort documentary film about the project, the show also features engaging Portland looping violinist and songwriter Joe Kye.

• Audiences should also look a lot younger than usual at the Oregon Symphony’s Tchaikovsky vs. Drake concert at Schnitzer Thursday night. Guest conductor Steve Hackman, perpetrator of last season’s similarly conceived “Brahms vs. Radiohead” program, this time brings three singers and a rapper to mashup a dozen hits by Drake (whose Scorpion is the year’s biggest album so far) with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with help from Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir.

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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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