sarah kwak

MusicWatch Weekly: The Apocalypse will be livestreamed

As world ends in slow motion, musicians struggle in solidarity

First of all, how are you? Eating enough? Staying inside and entertained? Called your friends and/or family lately? Good.

Let’s start by collectively admitting that we’re Not Doing Alright. It’s been a busy two weeks since last we spoke, dear reader: schools closed, concerts canceled, tours derailed, musicians laid off, stay-home orders issued, force majeure clauses invoked. We’ve been comparing notes with our fellow Gen X-ers and other overthirties, folks who experienced 9/11 and its aftermath as adults, and we’ve all reached the same conclusion–this is weirder by far.

Nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next, and as we scramble to make sense of it all we find ourselves grasping for new definitions of “musical activity” in general and “music journalism” in particular. We’d like to quote words from Oregon ArtsWatch Executive Editor Barry Johnson’s Mission Statement, which have recently comforted us:

The arts remind us that we are in this together. That we aren’t alone in our particular thoughts and feelings. That things can be made right and whole, if just for a moment. They remind us that the individual can do great things, and so can individuals acting together. And somehow, they resolve the great tension of American life, that between the rightful autonomy of the individual and the responsibilities that come with belonging to a group. We can’t imagine a good outcome to our dire problems—as a community, a nation, a planet—without the complex lessons the arts teach us.

We believe that the processes of discovery, explanation and discussion of journalism have an important role to play in all of this. An “informed citizenry” extends to cultural matters, and that is the mission of Oregon ArtsWatch—to help those of us in this particular culture share support and create arts and culture that respond to our needs.

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Making music in a time of isolation

As the world shuts down and the Oregon Symphony faces a stark financial crisis, musicians create a series of mini-concerts from home


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


AS AN ODD AND NERVOUS QUIET SETTLED over greater Portland and most other places from coast to coast in the past several days, small islands of sound broke the spell, scattered here and there like grace notes or staccato exclamations. They were counter-ripples against a tide of silence, little bursts of defiant pleasure, sounding carefully yet emphatically: Even in a time of plague, the music would not die.

These small musical uprisings were especially compelling considering the Oregon Symphony Orchestra’s announcement last Friday that it was suspending its current season, which was to run into June, and laying off its 76 contracted musicians, along with 19 staff members and two conductors. The situation, symphony President and CEO Scott Showalter told The Oregonian/Oregon Live, is dire. “We need emergency funds now,” he told reporter Nathan Rizzo. “What we’re staring down between now and the end of June is a $5 million loss.” Showalter had written to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Rizzo added, urging state economic support for the orchestra as the coronavirus crisis takes its toll, and the symphony is actively seeking private funds as well. The danger of collapse, it seems, is very real. And the orchestra is not alone. Across Oregon and the nation, cultural groups of all sorts are staring nervously into what seems a daunting economic abyss.

An invitation to the neighborhood: come close, stay apart, join us at a distance as we make some music.

So on Friday through Sunday, in what was not quite a coincidence, a large handful of those recently furloughed symphony musicians went small. In Portland and its surrounds, seven musical mini-events took place, on musicians’ porches and in their yards, at neutral neighborhood gathering spots where listeners and players alike could keep their social distance and yet also be together, sharing something both sophisticated and elemental: the joy of music.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Streams & tributaries

Electronica, Celtica, Symphonica, Jazz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last week, when we started talking about “living traditions,” we found that problematizing “world music” opened up the possibility that all genres are a form of tradition–a vast world of traditions within traditions, interacting with each other, ever-evolving, world without end, amen. We’ll be getting into all that in due course. For now, dear reader, we have more homework for you: another week’s worth of concerts, all geared toward your tradition-loving enjoyment and edification.

We’ll start with Japanese composer Takako Minekawa, who doesn’t make “world music.”

Minekawa is performing twice in Portland this week. She works in what we might call the Krautrock tradition: she’s spent the last thirty-odd years crafting vintage synth-laden pop music inspired by the legendary ‘70s Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra and the Robots of Düsseldorf Themselves. Minekawa performs a solo set Thursday (tonight!) at tone poem in Southeast Portland, so grab your bus pass and get moving. The next evening, she’s at the charming Leaven Community Center on Northeast Killingsworth for a quadraphonic concert presented in conjunction with Portland Community College’s Music & Sonic Arts Program.

Let’s circle back to “quadraphonic.” Music audio systems generally come in three varieties: the old-fashioned mono (one speaker channel), reigning champion stereo (left and right), and newishfangled quadraphonic (four channels). It’s one of those things you just have to experience live, and this concert gives you a chance to hear four masters at work on a “multi channel quad performance.” Minekawa joins Francisco Botello, Visible Cloaks, and Carl Stone (a student of Morton Subotnick, which is all you need to know).

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ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2018

2018 in Review, Part 1: Readers' choice. A look back at Oregon ArtsWatch's most read and shared stories of the year

When we say “hit parade,” that’s what we mean. In the first of a series of stories looking back on the highlights of 2018, these 25 tales were ArtsWatch’s most popular of the year, by the numbers: the most read, or the most shared on social media, or both. From photo features to artist conversations to reviews to personal essays to news stories, these are the pieces that most resounded with you, our readers. These 25 stories amount to roughly two a month, out of more than 50 in the average month: By New Year’s Eve we’ll have published roughly 650 stories, on all sorts of cultural topics, during the 2018 calendar year.

 



Like ArtsWatch? Help us out.

We couldn’t bring you the stories we bring without your support, which is what keeps us going. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit journalism publication, with no pay wall: Everything we publish is free for the reading. We can offer this public service thanks to generous gifts from foundations, public cultural organizations, and you, our readers. As the year draws to a close, please help us keep the stories coming. It’s easy:



 

And now, the 25 of 2018, listed chronologically:

 


 

Legendary jazz drummer Mel Brown. Photo: K.B. Dixon

In the Frame: Eleven Men

Jan. 2: Writer and photographer K.B. Dixon’s photo essay looks graphically at a group of men who have helped shape Portland’s cultural and creative life, among them jazz drummer Mel Brown, the late Claymation pioneer Will Vinton, Powell’s Books owner Michael Powell, gallerist Charles Froelick, and the legendary female impersonator Walter Cole, better known as Darcelle. Dixon would later profile eleven woman cultural leaders, a feature that is also among 2018’s most-read.

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In the Frame: Eleven Women

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Not too long ago I published a piece titled In the Frame: Eleven Men, which included portraits of eleven men. This is the second part of that In the Frame project: eleven women. As with the first installment, the faces here are those of talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of Portland, people who make this city what it is, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? I originally answered this question jokingly, saying “why not—it was the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon.” I suggested this capricious choice was some sort of salutary exercise, a confrontation with a personal bias in favor of symmetry. It was, in fact, the product of capitulation—of surrender to a troublesome temperament. The return to the number eleven here is simply a nod to this serendipitous template and to equity.

As with the previous set of portraits, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium. I have tried also to produce one that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image. These are not formal portraits, but casual ones—portraits that offer, I hope, some of the authentic intimacy that only a guileless reality affords.

 


Barbara Roberts

 

First woman to be elected Governor of Oregon; Associate Director at Portland State University’s School of Government Executive Leadership, and Member of Portland’s Metro Council.

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Classical Up Close: Connecting with audiences beyond the concert hall

Oregon Symphony musicians perform free chamber music concerts in and around Portland April 26-May 3.

In fall of 2012, the Oregon Symphony was eagerly anticipating its impending return to Carnegie Hall, where its critically acclaimed performance in the previous year’s Spring for Music festival had vaulted the orchestra to national attention and affirmed what Oregonians had known for years: at its best, OSO performances could rival those delivered by top ranked American orchestras.

But at the peak of its national renown, the orchestra suffered a setback: a financial crunch meant it couldn’t afford the return visit to New York for the 2013 Spring for Music festival. With the performance canceled long after the rest of the season had been planned, OSO musicians faced a rarity: a week with no musical obligations.

The cancellation revealed another, less welcome truth: for all its demonstrated musical skill, the orchestra lacked the community support to pay for the New York trip, and in fact the players were facing cuts in pay, possible downsizing, and other challenges — part of a much broader, longer term (and mostly self-inflicted) decline in the classical music establishment’s contemporary cultural relevance.

That was the backdrop when OSO concertmaster Sarah Kwak and a few of her colleagues sat down to brainstorm what to do with their unexpectedly available week. The players could have taken a well deserved break or maybe filled the calendar with teaching, rehearsing, or chamber music gigs, though the late notice might have made that difficult.

Instead, they chose to make a virtue of necessity and turn a setback into an opportunity. A need for community connection, a suddenly available week for symphony musicians… maybe both problems could be addressed simultaneously. During a brainstorming session that fall, OSO musicians tried to figure out how best to use their unanticipated break. They arrived at a goal: “How can we help the symphony to gain more visibility for the orchestra and do something for the community?” Kwak recalls. It would cost way too much for the whole orchestra to perform, the group realized. “So we decided: ‘why don’t we go out and play chamber music instead?’” Kwak remembers. “The ideas evolved into a community engagement project.”

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