Sara Pajunen

Aallotar review: collaboration, commitment, courage

Finnish-American chamber folk duo blends classical influences and traditional dance music to create original compositions

At Aallotar’s July 29 concert at the beautifully austere Nordia House, the Finland/Minnesota duo played with an intensely graceful stage presence against a lovely backdrop, through plate glass windows, of the Nordic culture center’s patio garden. There and at the band’s next show at Cottage Grove’s Axe and Fiddle, the reception was positive and enthusiastic, the performances quite relaxed, with atmospheric arrangements and earthbound tempos.

Aallotar

Yet even though many in the Nordia House audience appeared to be veteran Scandinavian dance music fans, Aallotar didn’t really play traditional dance music. Granted, the roots of Aallotar’s music lie with pelimanni, the Finnish version of traditional Nordic dance music. Think of the music your Lutheran grand-relatives danced schottisches, polkas, mazurkas, and hambos to.

But with Aallotar, the dance forms are transformed, expanded, and updated (although, on both nights, they indulged their audiences by slipping into a straight-up polska or two). More familiar with the up-tempo, rollicking dance tunes of popular Finnish pelimanni folk bands such as Frigg, JPP, and the more obscure Pinnin Pojat, I was challenged by the pair’s interpretations. Throughout the concerts, enchanted by clear, precise vocal technique and intelligent arrangements, I wondered, “How did these women arrive at this music?”

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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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