regina carter

Living Traditions, Part One: American symphonica

Keeping the American orchestra alive with Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra

A couple years back, during the Bernstein Centennial, Portland Youth Philharmonic conductor David Hattner said something that stuck with us: “if American orchestras don’t play music by American composers, no one will.” He meant it, too; that concert, with a deeply moving performance of Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony as its centerpiece, was one of only two really worthwhile Bernstein concerts that season (the other was PSU Chamber Choir’s Chichester Psalms). Jeremiah soloist Laura Beckel Thoreson, plus superb performances of Jacob Avshalomov’s The Taking of T’ung Kuan and Ernst Bloch’s Schelomo (with dazzling solo cello from Kira Wang), only sweetened the deal.

We’ve noticed that PYP, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra all do their fair share to keep the American Symphonic Tradition alive in Portland. In fact, from an aesthetic point of view they often do better than bigger institutions like the Oregon Symphony. (The same holds true, mutatis mutandis, for the contrasting American composer relations of the conservative but modern-friendly Portland Opera and the living-composer-obsessed Opera Theater Oregon–which is, to be fair, co-directed by a living, local, American composer).

This month, all three orchestras have concerts that enrich and enliven the American Symphonic Tradition: PYP and MYS this weekend, PCSO the following. We’ve been to most of these three orchestras’ recent concerts, and each one was a perfectly flawed contribution to the tradition’s vitality. That is, they were enjoyable as symphonic concerts and laudable as concerts of music by American composers, but each made (lucky for this music critic) a few critical mistakes.

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What Kind of Music Do You Listen to for Pleasure?

An interview with Portland composer David Schiff

Introduction by Matthew Neil Andrews
Interview by Charles Rose

Alongside Kenji Bunch and a handful of others, recently-retired Reed College professor David Schiff sits comfortably among Portland’s most popular composers of what we still call “classical” music. There’s a good reason for that: the New York born, longtime Oregon resident writes music that combines the best of mainstream contemporary classical (Stravinsky, Copland, Carter) with the energy and appeal of more popular genres such as minimalism (Reich, Riley), jazz (Mingus, Ellington), and even klezmer.

That makes his music catchy, exciting, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally rewarding. We also find it very telling that he’s written books about Ellington and Carter: two giants occupying complementary ends of the vast spectrum of 20th-century U.S. music. You can read Arts Watch Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s profile of Schiff right here.

David Shifrin and David Schiff onstage at CMNW’s 2016 Summer Festival.

Schiff’s also gone out of his way to make friends with some of the finest players in the daring cross-genre world he lives in, so we get to hear his music played by Regina Carter, Fear No Music, David Shifrin, and various stars from the Chamber Music Northwest company of world-class performers. This upcoming Saturday, July 6, and Monday, July 8 (both in Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, where Schiff teaches), CMNW presents the world premiere of Schiff’s Chamber Concerto No. 1 for Clarinet and Ensemble, commissioned for this occasion.

The concert also includes Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor and Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, and composer/pianist Daniel Schlosberg‘s arrangement of the Adagio from the second Brahms piano concerto, a task Schlosberg described as “a daunting proposition.”

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PDX Jazz Festival reviews: music and more

Regina Carter, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Luciana Souza, Tigran Hamasyan and young Portland visual artists were among the highlights of the annual celebration of jazz

by ANGELA ALLEN

From elite jazzers to startling up-and-comers, the 2018 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival spread the music around Portland Feb.15-25 with a 100-plus gigs, twice as many musicians, and a wide spread of venues and event prices, many free.

Following are some highlights, and trust me, I missed dozens of others worth talking up.

Poet-plus

Brazilian singer Luciana Souza has always been a poetic musician (listen to her version of “Waters of March”), but these days she champions poets with a dedicated CD, convinced that we need more of them in our presently dark world. Her newest undertaking, Word Strings, is a drummer-less project with skilled stand-up bassist Scott Colley and gonzo Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro from Souza’s Sao Paulo hometown. The trio tested out some Word String pieces Feb. 17 at Revolution Hall in a not-quite-sold-out concert.

Luciana Souza performing at PDX Jazz. Photo: ©2018 Mark Sheldon.

Souza studied in the United States at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, but she grew up in a lively music-and-word-crazy Brazilian household. Her mother, Tereza Souza, is a poet/lyricist, and father Walter Santos, a singer. Her 81-year-old godfather, Hermeto Pascoal, is a Brazilian composer whose “Forro Brasil” she played toward the end of the hour. The DNA and cultural influences help her to carry on Brazilian music traditions, yet she is boundless and genre-less in her approach to her past and to her art.

Souza’s group put to music poetry by Leonard Cohen, Charles Simic, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop (who lived in Brazil), much of it with samba and bossa nova shades, some with original arrangements. Souza loves to play a little drums and timpani, but not too much. Her sidemen were masterful at making the most of her inviting, haunting, fluid lyrical singing; they could have been soloing much of the time — Colley and Pinheiro are so good in their own rights.

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