sound of late

‘Rituals’ review: ambient tension

Contemporary classical music ensemble Sound of Late's dive into ambient sounds achieves incomplete immersion

by TRISTAN BLISS

“Listen closely to the cycles of your breath as you sink deeper into a universe of sound.” As that promotional quote for its May 19 show Rituals at Portland’s N.E.W Expressive Works indicates, Sound of Late invited us to lose ourselves in the spatial and immersive qualities of sound. Unfortunately, while waiting for this “universe of sound” to engulf me, Rituals played out as a fringe avant-garde chamber music concert that I would be cautious about who I invited to. The promised sound world was almost tangible and the show was teetering on something more, if only Sound of Late had believed in the validity of their vision and not sacrificed it to composers’ isolated visions of their scores.

Sound of Late’s ‘Rituals.’ Photo: Carlin Ma Photography.

Sitting in a circle, the audience’s experience centered upon the sound oscillating from inside to outside the circle. The Portland/Seattle new music ensemble performed Sequences by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Gjallarhorn by the Oregon electrical engineer/composer Chet Udell, in the speaking silence by Oregonian Andrea Reinkemeyer, and Et Nunc by Brooklyn based Alvin Singleton inside the audience circle. In between each of these pieces, a passage from Thirteen Changes by Pauline Oliveros would be played from outside the audience.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Mahlerian May

Mega-symphonies and more resound in Oregon concerts this week

Mahler’s symphonies seem like a closing chapter, a culmination of big, Romantic orchestral music. So large (and expensive!) are the forces required, that orchestras often save them for the end of the season. On Thursday, Francesco Lecce-Chong concludes his debut season with the Eugene Symphony with Symphony #5, along with Haydn’s delightful Symphony #88, still one of his most popular. Mahler wanted to pack a world into each of his symphonies, and this 1902 colossus traverses an astonishing emotional range, veering from funereal to violent to inebriated to anxious to ardent to a demented orchestral punch line.

Gustav Mahler.

In Portland, the Oregon Symphony closes its season this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with Mahler’s relatively infrequently played 1905 seventh symphony (“A Lotta Night Music”), which does not need more cowbell. And next Tuesday, Corvallis OSU Symphony Orchestra plays his massive, summery third symphony at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center.

The excellent Delgani String Quartet also goes big in its season-ender Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night at Eugene’s Temple Beth Israel, and Monday night at Portland’s Old Church, adding a second violist (Elizabeth Freivogel of the award-winning Jupiter Quartet) so they can play a pair of too rarely heard (because they require that “extra” player) classical masterpieces: Mozart’s G Minor quintet and Brahms’s G major quintet.

Delgani Quartet adds a guest for its performances in Portland and Eugene.

In “Rituals” Friday night at N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland/Seattle new music ensemble Sound of Late, one of the freshest additions to the Northwest’s burgeoning contemporary classical music scene, offers a pair of Portland premieres by Alvin Singleton and acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a composition by Chet Udell that uses motion-sensor electronics and horn, a 20th century classic by the late pioneering composer Pauline Oliveros, and the world premiere of a lament by promising Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer, who just scored a major national award for emerging women composers.

Sophiko Simsive performs in Portland, Salem, and Hood River.

Speaking of Oregon composers, Portland’s Kenji Bunch contributed a new piece to Sophiko Simsive’s performances at Portland Piano Company (Wednesday), Salem Library (Thursday), and Hood River Middle School (Friday afternoon). The award-winning Georgian pianist’s free recital, part of Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregon composers with emerging young touring pianists, also features sonatas by Mozart and Scriabin and Ravel’s marvelously modernized reinvention of an old dance form, The Waltz (La Valse) — which in turn inspired Bunch’s new Discothèque.

Speaking of Bunch, his father Ralph wrote the libretto for another new piece by still another Portland composer, John Vergin, which the latter will perform on piano with singers Alexis Hamilton and Brian Tierney Sunday night at Reed College’s Eliot Hall Chapel. Their song cycle Eleanora Andreevna takes its title from the name of Bunch’s Soviet-born wife, who escaped German bombing during World War II and grew up to become one of the nation’s top female computer scientists and to save Ralph’s life. They married when both were in their late 50s and she died in 2012.

Frank Martin didn’t even publish his 1922 Mass for 40 years, considering the devotional music too personal. But choirs have increasingly taken it up, including recent performances by Oregon Repertory Singers, Cantores in Ecclesia and now these Portland Symphonic Choir performances Friday and Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral led by PSC music director candidate Richard Sparks. When Sparks was with a Canadian choir, he also commissioned the other work on the program, Canadian composer Allan Bevan’s 2005 Good Friday meditation Nou goth sonne under wode, and now he’s bringing it here for its Portland premiere.

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MusicWatch Weekly: celebrations and appreciations

This week's Oregon concerts celebrate a famous composer's centennial, an Oregon professor's creative  work, early Italian baroque, female composers, and American jazz

The adventurous Portland/Seattle ensemble Sound of Late premieres Book of the Dark by American composer Alan Shockley at their Saturday night informal, hour-long show at Portland’s New Expressive Works. The chamber music score incorporates references to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, moody English composer John Dowland’s darkly compelling Lachrimae, occult symbolism, and more.

Sound of Late performs at Portland’s N.E.W. studios Saturday

The intriguing program also includes the still-startling solo flute showcase Diaphonic Suite #1 by one of America’s first great female composers, Ruth Crawford (who later added a husband and a surname, Seeger), a chamber ensemble arrangement of Arvo Part’s choral classic Summa, Argentine composer Adriana Verdié’s Confluencia and Michigan composer Alexander Miller’s Short Stanzas.

Lisa Neher performs Sunday at Lewis & Clark College.

As we noted in the previous MusicWatch, last weekend saw three Portland concerts that featured new music by female composers. This Sunday afternoon, a free recital at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel offers another. Her Songs: A Recital of Music by Women, features composer, mezzo-soprano and L&C alumna Lisa Neher and pianist Stephanie Thompson performing songs by early 20th century French composers Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger, California’s Gabriela Lena Frank, Broadway composer / lyricist / conductor Georgia Stitt, and Neher herself.

Since graduating from Lewis & Clark, Neher has built a career as choral performer and vocal recitalist and created One Voice Project, a one-woman performance combining contemporary poetry and new musical works for unaccompanied voice chosen through a call for scores and teaches college in Iowa.

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ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

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MusicWatch Weekly: autumn bounty

This week's Oregon music highlights

In one of the peak weeks in the fall season of Oregon music, terling sopranos sing old and new songs, and other highlights include contemporary electronica, jazz, choral music, and sounds from Argentina, Mali, Japan, Europe, and beyond — including Oregon composers. Please add your recommendations in the comments section below.

BallakŽe Sissoko and Vincent Segal perform Tuesday at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Claude Gassian.

Julianne Baird and Marcia Hadjimarkos
The superb early music soprano and the acclaimed Portland-born pianist, long based in Europe, perform music from Jane Austen’s world. The immortal writer was also a musician who practiced pop tunes of her time on fortepiano (which Hadjimarkos will, appropriately, play here) daily before breakfast, and filled her room with sheet music and her books and letters with references to public and private music events. Along with music by Haydn, Handel, Gluck, and more, including female songwriters, the show features songs about country life, drinking, and love, plus Turkish and Moorish motifs, female character pieces, and songs about naval victories and the French Revolution. A pair of narrators interpolate readings from Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and more.
Wednesday, Hudson Hall, Willamette University, Salem.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performs Thursday in Portland.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Orcas Island native, now based in LA, has moved from the contemporary classical niche to broader acclaim and audiences in electronic music, including opening for Animal Collective and collaborating Suzanne Ciani. The synth-savvy sound sculptor is releasing three albums this year to go with five earlier releases, numerous film scores, and more.
Thursday, Doug Fir Lounge. Portland.

Eugene Symphony
When the rising young pianist Conrad Tao appeared at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2011, he was a 17-year-old prodigy who could seemingly almost play masterpieces with one hand tied behind his back. Having grown both a beard and a reputation as a solid performer and composer, he’ll almost get the chance in Maurice Ravel’s dramatic 1931 piano concerto written for the great Austrian virtuoso Paul Wittgenstein, who’d lost his right arm to a Russian bullet in World War I. He’ll also solo in Liszt’s wild, colorful 1838 Dance of Death (Totentanz), and the orchestra will play a Mozart symphony about which its composer wrote, “I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like.” He was talking about Parisians, not Oregonians, who’ll find plenty to enjoy in Mozart’s so-nicknamed Paris Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Marquis Hill’s Blacktet plays two shows in Portland.

Marquis Hill Blacktet
The 2014 Thelonious Monk competition winner earned further notice with his gig in Joe Lovano’s band, and the sweet toned trumpeter has become a fine bandleader himself with this group that integrates bop, hip hop and R&B. Two shows.
Thursday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Third Angle New Music & Tony Arnold
The Portland new music string quartet and New York new music soprano team up in music by the fine California composer Gabriela Lena Frank, colorful Australian composer Brett Dean, Greek-French composer Georges Aperghis, and midcentury Italian modernist Luciano Berio. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the same team’s Creative Academy of Music concert Saturday.
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. Portland.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
The plucky organization dedicated to cultivating 21st century music by Portland composers and improvisers celebrates its tenth anniversary with a a TED-style talk from Executive Director Douglas Detrick, silent auction with some really enticing offers, and three pieces of music that tell the PJCE story—by PJCE founding Executive Director Andrew Oliver, former Grasshoppers (the young composers mentored by established Portland jazz musicians via PJCE’s admirable program) mentee Andres Moreno, and the world premiere of a new piece by one of Portland’s busiest and most inventive musicians, drummer/composer/improviser Barra Brown.
Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Sound of Late
The exciting Portland/Seattle ensemble gives the West Coast premieres of music by youngish British composer Anna Clyne (former composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony and other orchestras) and Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus works by by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Italian modernist Giacinto Scelsi, and the world premiere of a new piece by young Seattle composer Noel Kennon. The show is enhanced by video art by Seattle artist Stefan Gonzales.
Saturday, N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland.

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Sound of Late review: free to have fun

Northwest new music ensemble delights in music by star composer Missy Mazzoli and more

There is a certain liberation in the post-tonal, post-post-tonal, post-modern, post-post music Sound of Late specializes in. Music can be chromatic without being serial; it can be complex without being acrobatic. Academic classical music took a long strange turn to the ridiculously hypercomplex from about 1950 onward, and although a few notable rebels found ways to break away from all the Babbittness and Boulezerie the stench of ivory tower still leaves a bad odor in some noses. So it’s something of a relief when a virtuosic, experimental musician like SoL ensemble director Andrew Stiefel says something like “it’s okay to be rhythmic, it’s okay to be melodic, it’s okay to have fun.”

As one of the Pacific Northwest’s newest new music ensembles, Sound of Late has been carving out a nice young niche for themselves here and in Seattle, celebrating living composers, putting on 48-hour composition competitions, and generally behaving like the bunch of brash young academy trained badasses they are. They’re just as experimental as Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series, though perhaps less sparse and quite a bit poppier. Their usual line-up consists of flutist Sarah Pyle, clarinetist Colleen White, horn player Rebecca Olason, violinist Bryce Caster, violist Stiefel, cellist Elizabeth Gergel, and bassist Milo Fultz—not all of whom play every piece or even every concert—plus various guests and substitutes. I’ve written about them before and expect to do so again next season.

Violinist Thao Huynh, cellist Keith Thomas and violist Andrew Stiefel played music by Missy Mazzoli in Portland and Seattle.

Violist Stiefel, exhausted from playing Seattle and driving back down for this show, introduced SoL’s Magic with Everyday Objects, the last concert of their first season as a group. Stiefel talked a bit about the first piece of the evening, Mazzoli’s 2006 trio Lies You Can Believe In: “Lies in this piece are not so much a falsehood as embellishing a story.” How right he was. Cellist Keith Thomas and guest violinist Thao Huynh joined Stiefel for lots of dissonant drones, complex meters played against open strings, tightly sculpted dynamics, talea-color interplay a la Messiaen and Harrison, and a recurring ascending theme that reminded me of Masada String Trio’s The Circle Maker or King Crimson’s “Talking Drum.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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