someday lounge

FearNoMusic is on the bill at Portland’s Someday Lounge. Image via FearNoMusic

Last November at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, Portland’s Third Angle New Music Ensemble tore through one of the 20th century’s most famous works, George Crumb’s searing 1970 string quartet Black Angels, music that reflected the turbulence of its time (including the Vietnam War) and which sparked David Harrington to create the Kronos Quartet, so that he would have a vehicle to perform new music with that kind of power and contemporary relevance. The music also inspired the creation of another musical institution.

“I was blown away,” young composer Justin Ralls recalls. “That was the moment I realized that some big things were possible here.”

At the reception after the show, Ralls, recently returned to his hometown after obtaining his degree in composition from the Boston Conservatory in spring 2010, chatted with 3A music director/violinist Ron Blessinger and cellist and PSU prof Hamilton Cheifetz, and learned that Portland’s new music scene had been blossoming since he’d graduated from Cleveland High School in 2006. The 23-year-old composer/drummer saw the enthusiastic but mostly middle aged audience and began to wonder: could there be a place in the city for a larger, orchestra-sized new music group rather than a small ensemble? And could it draw musicians and music lovers of his generation?

Ralls decided to find out, and the first manifestation of his vision appears this Sunday night at Portland’s Someday Lounge, when his new Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project makes its debut at what looks to be a fascinating new music festival featuring another veteran Portland ensemble, FearNoMusic, Eugene’s Beta Collide (founded by two veterans of other major contemporary music groups, New York’s Meridian Arts Ensemble and Chicago’s eighth blackbird), and other musicians from New York and California.


Taylor emcees OTO's first show, "Will Kill for Vaudeville" at Someday Lounge (2007)

In a blow to the city’s music scene, one of Portland’s artistic visionaries, Katie Taylor, has stepped down as Opera Theater Oregon’s artistic director.

“After five years on the pony – the zesty, prancing pony that is OTO — I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down. I was going to invent a sex scandal (not involving ponies) to explain my departure, but then I remembered that this is Portland, and no one would be likely to care, even if ponies were involved,” Taylor wrote on the innovative company’s website. “So…I’ll just say straight out that it’s been an amazing ride, and I feel lucky to have met and worked with so many amazing people, but it’s time for me to say goodbye.”

Taking the Tarnhelm (redubbed the Tan-helm in OTO’s Baywatch-style version of Wagner’s The Rheingold) at OTO will be the alternative opera company’s musical director, Erica Melton, and film division director Jen Wechsler.

The company will throw a farewell party for Taylor at one of OTO’s original venues, Someday Lounge, on June July 24, which will include a short film and “opera karaoke.”

During her half-decade at the helm, OTO distinguished itself as one of Portland’s most creative performing arts companies, with ambitions inversely proportional to its budgets. A bastion of the city’s burgeoning alt-classical scene, the company used humor, pop culture references, a fun, informal atmosphere, and especially beer (at venues such as Someday Lounge, Alberta Rose Theater and Clinton Street Theater) to lure enthusiastic younger audiences to modern, sometimes wacky productions of classic operas, including producing a Portland-centric version of John Gay’s play The Beggar’s Opera (also the inspiration for Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera).

Taylor directed a spooky, Twilight Zonish version of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium at Someday and co-commissioned a new score for Filmusik’s Hercules vs. Vampires. Although they winked at some of opera’s stuffy pretensions, OTO’s productions always took the music itself seriously in the quest to “make opera safe for America.”

OTO has also been celebrated for partnering with other alt-classical outfits, including Electric Opera Company, Filmusik, and Classical Revolution. Taylor and Dark Horse comic artist Dan Schaefer (Batman, Spiderman, et al.), created a “singing comic book” for this year’s production of Massenet’s Werther called Out of Eden.

Taylor’s departure comes just weeks after she shepherded the organization to a stable  home at McMenamin’s Mission Theater. That somewhat eased the sting of Taylor’s heroic, close-but-no-candy-cigar efforts to obtain downtown’s Guild Theater as a home and performance venue for several of the city’s other alternative classical organizations.

All that work apparently came at a price, however. The company is run by volunteers, and Taylor has had to pick up work to recover her finances.

“Running the organization left me with little time for the actual writing that was the most important part of the work for me,” Taylor says. “I will miss it very much, but it was definitely time to move on. I’m also excited to see where Erica and Jen take OTO.” She told OAW she’s “working on a cross-genre book of short stories whose protagonists all have psoriasis and a sci fi novel about a new weight loss gimmick with hideously complicated side effects, raising the question of how much of who we are is our bodies and how much is our minds.”

Let’s hope we’ll see more of Taylor’s prodigious talent, inclusive attitude, and artistic ambition on Portland stages soon. And let’s hope OTO thrives without her leadership.