renee favand-see

MusicWatch Monthly: Radioactive glowing disk returns to Oregon!

Summer arrives, with festivals, season closers and sun

Caution: Radioactive glowing disk has returned to Oregon’s skies! Remember your sunscreen! Remember your sunscreen! Message repeats.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1911, oil on canvas, 14.9 x 25.5 feet, University of Oslo, Norway. Wikimedia Commons

Five weeks and one day

There’s an old zen saying: you should meditate 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour every day.

Two festivals of contemporary classical music hit Portland this month, and if you’re too busy for one you should make time for the other. Chamber Music Northwest starts June 24 and stretches well into July, with local and international musicians performing everything from tons of Mozart to a bunch of stuff by contemporary composers. Meanwhile on June 27 Makrokosmos, now in its fifth year, crams a similar density of breadth and excellence in a one-day festival of Takemitsu, Crumb, and other modernist composers.

“Makrokosmos Project V: Black Angels”
June 27
Vestas Building

Bicoastal pianists DUO Stephanie & Saar present the best value in Portland’s contemporary music scene: Makrokosmos Project, a one-day mini-festival which has evolved into an annual feat of endurance for Portland new music nuts. This year, local pianists join Ho and Ahuvia to present the complete piano music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, spread across two of the evening’s four segments, along with other piano works by John Luther Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Olivier Messiaen. The mini-fest ends with the Pyxis Quartet’s performance of George Crumb’s gorgeously nightmare-inducing Black Angels: “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” for electric string quartet (you read that right). One ticket gets you a five-hour mini-festival with free cheese and wine. Hard to beat.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival: Week One
June 24 – 30
Kaul Auditorium at Reed College
Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University
Alberta Rose Theater

Clarinetist extraordinaire David Shifrin ends his nearly four-decade run as CMNW Artistic Director with an opening week full of clarinets. No fewer than 27 all-star clarinetists perform two centuries of clarinet music ranging from Mozart—the first great composer to write for the instrument—to new works by Libby Larsen and Michele Mangani.

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MusicWatch Weekly: for the children

Music inspired by children lead this week's Oregon concert lineup

The Christmas season celebrates a child’s birth and delights kids all over the world. But there’s little comfort and joy for many children today. Even before little Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on that Turkish beach three years ago, children were bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis and so many other catastrophes. Fear No Music’s “All of the Future: In Celebration of Children” features chamber music on subjects especially significant to children, including gun violence (Larry Bell’s Newtown Variations, responding to the 2013 massacre), homophobia (Pulitzer Prize winner David Del Tredici’s Matthew Shepard), migration (Mary Kouyoumdjian’s A Boy And A Makeshift Toy, inspired by the 1990s Bosnian conflict), bullying (Barbara White’s Registering My Oppositions) and, yes, the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean (Nadir Vassena’s child lost at sea). The young musicians of Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras contribute a collective compositional response to the new ICE crackdown on immigrants.
Monday. The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday concert happens this weekend.

• Like so many parents today, jazz pianist Ezra Weiss, the father of two young sons, worries about the turn the world has taken recently and what it means for his children’s future. And as one of Portland’s most esteemed jazz composers and arrangers, Weiss channeled those concerns when he created his latest and one of his most ambitious compositions. This concert, a fundraiser for the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, features the premiere and live recording of Weiss’s new jazz suite We Limit Not the Truth of God, featuring many of the city’s top players (John Nastos, John Savage, Renato Caranto, Stan Bock, Alan Jones, Carlton Jackson, Thomas Barber and more, plus the Camas High School Choir. This new creation follows a string of successes, including his score for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s multimedia concert and recording earlier this year, From Maxville To Vanport; three original musicals for Northwest Children’s Theater; three ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, half a dozen CDs, and a host of arrangements and compositions for various Portland jazz veterans. But fair warning: although inspired by concern for children, some of the themes in Weiss’s new composition may not be appropriate for all of them. Such is the state of our world.
Saturday. Alberta Abbey, Portland.

• The impressive Portland composer Renée Favand-See dedicated her new solo piano work Growing to her first son Owen, and suggests that its premiere performance would be a good one for adults and kids. It’s part of award winning rising star pianist Zhenni Li’s free, one-hour, no intermission recital presented by Portland Piano International, which commissioned it. Along with Growing (based on Britten’s folk song arrangement “The trees they grow so high,” which will be sung by Arwen Myers in Portland), the recital includes music by Beethoven, Bortkiewicz, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition.
Friday, St. Paul’s Episcopal, 1444 Liberty Street SE, Salem, and Saturday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

Choral Concerts

• Children from ORS’s own youth choirs and student choristers from local middle and high schools join in some selections in Oregon Repertory Singers’ Glory of Christmas concert, annually one of the best bets of the holiday music season. The 20th and 21st century program includes excerpts from contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights and Benjamin Britten’s enchanting Ceremony of Carols, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen’s moving O Magnum Mysterium, Portland composer Naomi LaViolette’s Angel in the Snow, contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Bogoroditse Devo and Magnificat, contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds’s Stars, Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, and more.
Friday (tickets available) & Sunday (sold out, call ahead), First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers perform at Portland’s First United Methodist Church.

• Some of the same composers and even compositions appear on Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland’s CAE Yuletide: To Friends Old & New this weekend. The choir teams up with composers from our own time and place to perform new Northwest seasonal works created by members of Cascadia Composers, plus old favorites by other renowned contemporary choral composers (Gjeilo, Lauridsen, Stephen Chatman, Pärt), new works by rising young composers (Jake Runestad, Joshua Shank, Martin Åsander) and classics by Mozart, Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tavener, Elgar, and more. Portland composer Lisa Neher’s Three Basho Haiku includes ”harvest moon,” which conjures the image of a large, orange moon rising in the autumn sky; “first winter rain,” which likens the ending of the year with the waning of life, prompting the search for the comfort of companionship and “this fragrance,” which relates the experience of a particular scent awakening emotions and memories. Bill Whitley‘s Ecclesia is a tribute to the great Portland architect Pietro Beluschi. Read ArtsWatch’s interview with CAE artistic director David De Lyser.
Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 2408 SE 16th Ave. Portland.

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Resonance Ensemble review: context counts

Portland composer's impressive choral composition eclipses concert's other programming

by TERRY ROSS

Be careful with your programming.

This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon in putting together the June 24 concert of her choir Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s Yale Union. Instead, what might have been a cohesive program of music in support of the featured selection, a very well-crafted piece by a local composer, became a very mixed bag of good, bad, and boring music.

Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon and composer Renée Favand-See. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar Photography.

The main attraction, Only in Falling, which Resonance commissioned and premiered in 2014, is a 25-minute essay in five parts, each a setting of verses by Kentucky poet Wendell Berry (b. 1934). The poetry itself is very strong in its evocation of nature, especially in the first three movements, and composer Renée Favand-See does it justice in short bursts of sensitive part-writing. The second movement, “For the Future,“ made skillful use of Resonance Ensemble’s seven male singers (eight were listed in the program), and the third, “Woods,” proved a lovely vehicle for mezzo-soprano Cecily Kiester.

The music was just as interesting and even beautiful in the fourth and fifth movements, but these suffered from an overload of text. The fourth, “The Law That Marries All Things,” is in five separate parts, and although soprano Lindsey Cafferky, tenor Les Green and baritone Kevin Walsh sang their solos convincingly, the music dragged out to nine minutes and failed to have the impact of the shorter opening three movements, which lasted a total of eight minutes together. And in movement five, “The Wheel,” the long text, declaimed rapidly, was utterly lost despite the efforts of Mr. Green and soprano Vakaré Petroliunaité.

Still, the overall effect of Ms. Favand-See’s piece is overwhelmingly positive; it shows a genuine composer’s gift in its melodies and structures, and one looks forward to its release on a recording soon. On the other hand, there is no excuse for presenting Nikole Potulsky’s amateurish and lame three-minute song “Baby Mine,” which the composer sang, accompanying herself (amateurishly) on guitar, on which her repertoire consisted of three chords (I-IV-V). However unfortunate it was that Ms. Potulsky was mourning the death of three babies — in her own miscarriage and in a friend’s and a cousin’s still-births — there’s no reason to allow empathy to overrule musical taste and judgment.


Video: Alan Niven, Wolf Traks.

In contrast, Dominick Di Orio’s five-minute You Do Not Walk Alone featured a very effective repeated gesture of pausing on a dissonant chord on the word “walk” before finally resolving into a consonance emphasizing the title’s message. And Steven Sametz’s I Have Had Singing, although only two minutes long, was an excellent setting of a wonderful quote from Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, Portland of an English Village (1969), well worth printing here in its eloquent entirety:

The singing. There was so much singing then and this was my pleasure, too. We all sang, the boys in the field, the chapels were full of singing. Here I lie: I have had pleasure enough; I have had singing.

A piece called Last Letter Home by the well-known American choral composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was skillful enough in its writing, but it dipped into bathos in quoting in full a soldier’s longish letter to his wife, and it consisted of seven unrelenting minutes of homophony, in which all the singers sang the text together in hymn-like harmony. Jake Runestad’s The Peace of Wild Things, on yet another text by Wendell Berry, also relied monotonously on homophony, although with occasional repetitions.

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Cascadia Composers fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum

Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that 'classical' ? — music

Cascadia Composers can’t put on a boring concert. The organization of composers based primarily in the Northwest is only halfway through its 2016-17 season and already I’ve seen:

  • e-bow-generated harpsichord drones played on a dark stage, with the composer draped in blue LED lights and projections of cymatically stimulated beads of blue water dancing in time to the music;
  • a stack of toy pianos played by five composers crammed all together, music clutched in their hands or squinched in between the tiny wooden legs;
  • duets between cello and doumbek, between clarinet and electronics, between pianists wearing flamboyant wigs and chasing each other around their instrument, screeching like wild cats;
  • a simple pastoral song about barnyard animals turn into a horrifying depiction of slaughter;
  • a choir imitating an alarm clock, a forest, a goddess, a rose.

Jennifer Wright performs her ‘You Cannot LIberate Me…’ Photo: Matias Brecher.

This is what happens when Oregon composers get together and make music. Taken together, the concerts presented a snapshot of contemporary Oregon’s surprisingly rich and diverse contemporary classical music scene.

A Cuba con Amor

The first Cascadia concert of the season, October’s A Cuba con Amor, featured works written for the group’s first-ever composer exchange: the concert’s six composers traveled to Cuba the following month to have their works performed there by local musicians in the 29th Annual Festival de La Habana. This was the concert with the toy pianos (Jennifer Wright’s semi-aleatoric X Chromosome), the doumbek and cello (Paul Safar’s Cat on a Wire), the clarinet and electronics (“synth wizard” Daniel Brugh’s Fantasia), and an evening’s worth of lovely music. I was especially pleased to hear so much music written for strings, including Brugh’s Reticulum for tenor and string quartet and no less than three pieces for piano trio (Safar’s A Trio of Dances, Art Resnick’s Images of a Trip, and Cascadia co-founder David Bernstein’s Late Autumn Moods and Images).

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and Max Weisenbloom play with toys on Wright’s ‘X-Chromosome’ at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

One particularly memorable moment was Ted Clifford’s melodica solo during the middle movement of his composition Child’s Play. As the newest composer in the Cascadia stable, seeing this family of composers at work on and off stage (and afterward at a nearby watering hole) made me feel fantastic about joining up.

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‘The Clearing’ review: European present, American absence

Portland Piano International's three-day festival examines the state of the European Union’s contemporary classical music and its 20th century roots

by JEFF WINSLOW

“Clearing” is such a paradoxical word. It refers to the absence of something – storm, forest, piles of stuff – but at the same time invites contemplation of what comes to life in the cleared space. What first struck me about Portland Piano International’s three day, four evening festival of nominally contemporary piano music, “The Clearing,” the long weekend after the election was what was absent: American composers, aside from Elliott Carter, a composer with a long lifetime of ties to Europe.

Tamara Stefanovich. Photo: Rich Brase.

Tamara Stefanovich. Photo: Rich Brase.

Also, much of the repertory was not at all new: pre-World War II works by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and music written immediately after the war by Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti, who with Boulez’s passing just this year at the age of 90 are all gone now. These works were included primarily for historical perspective, and the narrow Eurocentrism of the repertory turned out to be only natural: PPI had appointed Serbian pianist Tamara Stefanovich to curate the festival, and she along with Pierre-Laurent Aimard make up what may be Europe’s reigning power couple of contemporary piano. And so the festival, held at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, turned out to be a lively and fascinating window into the world of European art music from the mid 20th century on, in all its uncertain glory.

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Chamber Music Northwest premieres Reed College professor David Schiff's new composition

This weekend brings a pair of new works to Portland, created by one of the city’s most esteemed composers and one of its newest. Both appear in concerts that bridge seemingly disparate musical worlds.

On Friday, veteran Chamber Music Northwest musicians make a winter visit to their usual summer home to perform one of the most creatively destructive works in the history of art, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. To complement that spooky 1912 masterpiece — not coincidentally, the centennial  of Reed College, where it’ll be performed as part of the school’s 100th birthday celebrations — Reed professor and composer David Schiff composed a new work for the same instrumental combo (known for decades as the “Pierrot ensemble,” which includes  flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and often finds the musicians doubling on other instruments like bass clarinet, piccolo, viola etc.).

“As soon as I heard they were planning a Pierrot Lunaire, I decided to mix up high and low and complicate the story of modern music,” Schiff told me last week, “so I proposed that I’d write a suite for the instruments of Pierrot based on popular music of the time.”

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