ryan meagher

MusicWatch Monthly: Fabulous February

Composers, composers, composers! ...and a jazz festival

Classical weekend

This weekend, you can take your pick of classical music concerts: choral, chamber, or orchestral (or all three, if you have the stamina). On the 7th and 8th, Portland Lesbian Choir celebrates the ratification of the 19th Amendment (guaranteeing women’s right to vote) with their “Born to Celebrate” concert at Central Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland. The most exciting thing about this concert: a premiere of a new 19th Amendment-themed work commissioned by PLC from Portland composer Joan Szymko, whose music has been a highlight of recent Resonance Ensemble and Oregon Repertory Singers concerts.

Also on the 7th and 8th, at local theater company Bag & Baggage’s cozy Hillsboro venue The Vault, Northwest Piano Trio performs Shostakovich’s second piano trio as the live score for playwright Emily Gregory’s intimate end-of-life play The Undertaking. In this unique collaboration with B&B and director Jessica Wallenfels’ Many Hats Productions, the trio will be onstage with the actors. On the 8th at Portland State University, PSU violin-piano duo Tomas Cotik and Chuck Dillard will perform Mozart, Schubert, and Piazzolla–three of the four composers Cotik specializes in (the other, of course, is Bach). And if you already have tickets to Portland Opera’s An American Quartet, don’t forget that it opens this weekend–and if you don’t have tickets yet, you’d better hurry!

Also this weekend, the Oregon Symphony relegates two more living composers to the Fanfare Zone. Their “Pictures at an Exhibition” program (concerts Friday in Salem and Saturday-Monday in Portland) manages to make room for twelve minutes of Missy Mazzoli and thirteen minutes of Gabriella Smith between the half-hour blocks of decomposers Mussorgsky and Paganini. I get that we’re supposed to be grateful to OSO for playing anything at all by living composers and women composers, and we really are grateful that they commissioned a new work from Smith: living composers need to eat! But we’ll never tire of complaining about the Fanfare Zone, and we won’t stop until the ratios are reversed and decomposers have to compete for their token opening spot on concerts dominated by Zwilich concerti and Tower tone poems.

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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: exploratory opportunities

Relatively quiet opening week of 2019 offers chances to check out music beyond the comfort zone

Like the rest of our post-holiday recuperation, the first week of Oregon’s 2019 concert season starts relatively sluggishly. But there are a few good shows that you might have missed during a busier time of the season. Each offers a great chance to fulfill that New Year’s resolution to explore new and different experiences.

• Two of the city’s major classical music directors were born in Latin America, including Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Costa Rican-born conductor Raúl Gómez. With help from Pacific Youth Choir, the young musicians will perform broadly appealing but too often neglected (by terminally Eurocentric adult American orchestras) classics by Mexico’s ​Arturo Márquez and José Pablo Moncayo, Costa Rica’s Carlos Guzmán and more. As Oregon grows more demographically diverse, so should its classical music concerts, and this show offers not only a chance to encounter some excellent music we should all be hearing more often on classical concerts, but also these accomplished young musicians and their visionary conductor.
Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland

Raúl Gómez leads Metropolitan Youth Symphony Sunday.

• The Oregon Symphony starts the year off light, with this weekend’s light classical program of excerpts and classical greatest hits (Bernstein’s ebullient Candide overture, Barber’s Adagio for strings, hits by Bach, Beethoven, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Mozart and more, including the inevitable Taco Bell Cannon) that make a nice musical tapas menu to introduce those lingering visitors and family members to classical music.
Saturday & Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland

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PDX Jazz Festival preview: Signs of life

Portland jazz scene remains vital despite popular club's sudden closure

The word is out: Jazz is dead. Why, it says so in La La Land, one of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees. Even legendary jazz critic Nat Hentoff died last month, shortly after Portland’s — and one of America’s — finest jazz club, Jimmy Mak’s, closed its doors for the last time, the latest in a string (Ivories, Brasserie Montmartre, Blue Monk, etc.) in recent years. Jazz record sales are tiny compared to hip hop and rock, and it’s been decades since the music occupied the center of popular culture. So long jazz, been good to know ya.

Not so fast. Jazz music and musicians are insinuating themselves into pop music (Kendrick Lamar) and movies (La La Land, Miles Ahead). Jazz musicians are embracing contemporary pop sounds and winning new audiences without selling out (Robert Glasper, the Bad Plus, Kamasi Washington, who played to a packed, diverse crowd at Roseland ballroom in December, and many others). Contemporary classical and pop musicians, including the late David Bowie on his last album, are including jazz musicians and ingredients in their work. In Portland, reports jazz’s demise may be greatly exaggerated. The music still resounds in the city’s cafes and clubs, and the 2017 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, which begins this weekend, offers one of its strongest lineups (see our recommendations below).

Mel Brown performs and leads ensembles at PDX Jazz Festival.

Rather than a crisis, what Portland jazz is going through now is actually “a hiccup,” says veteran drummer Mel Brown, a Jimmy Mak’s mainstay who’s leading several bands at this year’s festival. He worries that jazz mostly happens in restaurants with no stages rather than dedicated venues like Jimmy Mak’s. But having grown up in Portland playing jazz in Northeast Portland’s legendary Jumptown scene as a teenager, he’s seen these cycles before.

“We had a lot of clubs here, then rock came and everything went away,” Brown recalls of the days before went off to study with legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones, perform with Motown, tour nationally before returning to Portland in the mid-1970s. “Now it’s trying to come back. We’ve got enough people pushing, but it takes time to really get the whole thing together.”

Kamasi Washington’s band drew a big, diverse audience to Portland’s Roseland Theater in December.

Jimmy Mak’s closing “does not reflect on the state of jazz in Portland,” insists festival director Don Lucoff, noting that the club closed not because it was faltering financially but because its building sold and its owner fell ill with terminal cancer before he could complete plans it to a new location this month. “Jimmy’s numbers, [local jazz radio station] KMHD’s numbers were up, our sales are up. It’s nothing to do with people not being interested in the music.” The festival shifted its Jimmy Mak’s performances to other venues, and the club’s former managers are busily putting together a new incarnation that jazz lovers hope will open before the year’s out.

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