Spire Duo

MusicWatch Monthly: the darkling buds of May

Encore shows, season closers, and kickoff concerts showcase visuals, Dutch virtuosi, Japanese drums, and women composers

There’s an old Oregon saying: “April showers bring May showers.” Our famously persnickety springs tend to veer from warm noon-times of glorious blooming sunshine to those long desperate afternoons of deep drizzling gloom that have our S.A.D. souls begging the gods, “when will you make an end?”

Fitting, then, that our Curated Concert Spread for May includes so much rich, loamy music. From fresh rain and frolicking flowers to ominous thunder and deadly lightning, here’s a sample of what’s happening in your merry, mournful town this May.

Weill, Auerbach, Price: Music for Orchestras

Oregon Symphony Orchestra
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland
The Oregon Symphony Orchestra puts on a few different types of concerts, and they end their season with three contrasting varieties spread across the month like a field full of wildflowers and mushrooms.

May 4, Norman Huynh conducts the OSO and guest choirs from Portland State University in a live performance of the award-winning score from Miloš Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus, the music deftly synchronized to the movie, projected on a giant screen above the orchestra. Unlike similar concerts with thoroughly cinematic scores (Star Wars, Batman), this concert doubles as a simple Mozart feast—including more than a little bit of that glorious Requiem, which PSU’s choirs performed in its entirety earlier this year. The music is all ages but the film is rated R, so know your kids or leave ‘em at home.

PEER GYNT from Studio Moto on Vimeo.

May 11-13, Carlos Kalmar conducts Edvard Grieg’s popular Peer Gynt score with visualizations by designer Alexander Polzin. This is the third concert of OSO’s popular SoundSight Series, which brings together visual artists and musicians for delightfully polysensory shows. Previous concerts have featured animation, projection mapping, and all kinds of puppetry. Also on the program: Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, featuring soprano Jane Archibald.

OSO closes its season with a Mahler symphony, the deceptively pretty first, sometimes called the “Titan (it’s the one with the minor-key Freres Jacques). The three concerts May 18-20 also reprise Kurt Weill‘s satirical ballet chanté, The Seven Deadly Sins, with Pink Martini chanteuse Storm Large in the double lead role originated by Lotte Lenya (Anna I and Anna II) and vocal quartet Hudson Shad as The Family. The Mahler symphony is nice and springy—like all Mahler, it’s lusciously orchestrated and therefore absolutely essential Schnitz-listening—but it’s the Weill that’s bringing us in out of the rainshine.

Storm Large rejoins the Oregon Symphony with Hudson Shad in ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ Photo: John Rudoff.

That vocal quartet is a funny case and deserves a special mention. Hudson Shad is, among other things, a cadre of Seven Deadly Sins specialists who got together specifically to perform this macabre deliciousness with Marianne Faithfull way back in antediluvian 1989, eventually recording it with her in 1997. These four guys have now been singing this music together for three decades. Listeners familiar with Weill from his Threepenny Opera can expect more of the composer’s iconic, sardonic cabaret sound. Meanwhile, here’s a taste of what we can expect from Large.

Auerbach and Martinů
May 5
Portland Youth Philharmonic, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland
PYP routinely handles new and difficult music that belies the age of its membership—think of it not as a group of highly skilled young musicians but as a 95-year-old symphony orchestra playing with vigor, courage, curiosity, and a deep emotional heft rivaling its more grown-up professional counterparts. They earned points with OAW by being one of the only groups in town to celebrate the Bernstein centennial with something other than West Side Story and Candide for the umpteenth time, opting instead to perform Lenny’s first symphony to perfection with Laura Beckel Thoreson in March. (Points also to PSU choirs for their magnificent Chichester Psalms and to Eugene Symphony for performing Bernstein’s second symphony, both last year; there’s also this).

Their season closer features PYP alum Max Blair performing Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů‘s 1955 sunny little Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra, and the West Coast premiere of contemporary Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach’s Symphony No. 1 “Chimera.”

You’ll enjoy the Martinů concerto, sure but you’re really going to thank us for Auerbach, whose music is exactly the right kind of fresh. It’s punchy and agitated, modernistically morbid, bristlingly bombastic, colorfully dissonant, heroically wistful, and melodically profuse—which, to my ear, places her about halfway between Khachaturian and Elfman.

America’s Florence
May 21
Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland
Classical music lovers continue waking up to music by U.S. composers of the present and past, and one of the best of the rising old stars is Florence Beatrice Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a serious symphonic composer. Following the 2009 discovery of dozens of lost Price scores (discussed here by local singer and Arts Watch correspondent Damien Geter), the classical world has been abuzz over this much-needed new entry into the early U.S. canon, finding ample space for her among the Beaches and Seegerses and Iveses. Stay tuned for ArtsWatch’s concert preview.

MYS—like PYP a fearless and curious band—performs Price’s tasty first symphony and her Americana-as-apple-pie Dances in the Canebrakes, along with the homage Letter to Florence Price, composed by MYS alum Katie Palka, one of the stars of Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project (read Charles Rose’s interview with Palka and three other YCP composers right here). MYS will also give the West Coast Premieres of two works by a pair of eleven-year-old composers, participants in the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers Initiative: Harlem Shake by Camryn Cowan and Boogie Down Uptown by Jordan Millar.

Japan, Netherlands, Florida: Transnational Chamber Musics

“Her Light Escape”
Spire Duo, May 4, Portland house concert.
Superb Eugene soprano Emma Rose Lynn and pianist Andrew T. Pham performing settings of poetry by Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost and more by 20th and 21st century composers composers such as André Previn, Dominick Argento (both of whom died this year), Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem, and others.

Portland Taiko rejoins FearNoMusic. Photo: Rich Iwasaki.

Japanarama: The Ongoing Influence of Japanese Culture
May 6
Fear No Music, The Old Church, Portland
Fear No Music’s husband-and-wife leadership team—Artistic Director Kenji Bunch and Executive Director Monica Ohuchi—have spent the past five years making FNM the best kind of Portland hybrid: a classical ensemble with unimpeachable performance credentials, a love for local and contemporary composers, and a mature sense of social justice and responsibility.

This season’s theme, “Worldwide Welcome,” invites international musics and musicians into downtown Portland’s Old Church, and this concert’s special guest is the beloved percussion ensemble Portland Taiko, a jolly and entertaining crew who have collaborated with Bunch on previous concerts and will likely be audible across the river. The Japanese drums—many of them gigantic—were originally designed for communications between villages and within armies, providing a nice counterpoint to Bunch’s quiet, reflective music.

Kendrick Scott Oracle
May 6, Jack London Revue, Portland
After earning his reputation as one of the finest jazz drummers of his generation in his decade anchoring Terence Blanchard’s superb ‘00’s band, Kendrick Scott formed his own band, Oracle, to showcase his considerable compositional chops. He scored a coveted record contract with sainted jazz label Blue Note, which just released one of the best jazz albums of the year so far. A Wall Becomes a Bridge beautifully blends varied textures: Jahi Sundance’s turntable, Mike Moreno’s fluid guitar, John Ellis’s various woodwinds (flute, bass clarinet, horn) and bassist Derrick Hodge’s wordless vocals, plus some vocal samples. Add Scott’s inventive drumming and Tyler Eigsti’s bright electric and acoustic keyboards, and it adds up to a forward-looking amalgam of ‘70s fusion, a dash of modern hip hop, and lyrical contemporary jazz that can charm fans of everyone from Pat Metheny to Scott’s fellow Houston natives Jason Moran and Robert Glasper.

Classical Musicians of Holland bring Portland a Dutch treat.

“Classical Musicians of Holland”
May 7
Portland Dutch Society, The Old Church
We here at Oregon Arts Watch have an almost jingoistic attitude toward classical music: local composers, local performers, local poets, local rainstorms. We’re locavores and we’re not ashamed of it. Some might even call us musical terroirists. But we do occasionally get wind of travelling shows blowing in under the radar, something to remind us life beyond the Willamette Valley.

On May 7, Portland Dutch Society hosts three young musicians, the most recent winners of Holland’s Prinses Christina Concours (Princess Christina Competition): violinist Yente Lottman, trombonist Niels Jacobs, and pianist-composer Maxim Heijmerink. The concert program features a lot of pretty familiar stuff—Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Chopin—and it will all no doubt be played superbly (we’re especially excited to hear that delicate Rachmaninoff vocalise on trombone). But this concert’s blossoms are the works by less-known composers: Alexandre Guilmant, Joseph Jongen, Peter Kiesewetter, and Heijmerink himself.

Mozart’s Clarinet
Delgani String Quartet
May 12 & 14, Temple Beth Israel, Eugene
May 18, Christian Science Church, Salem
May 19, The Old Church, Portland
Maybe you just can’t wait until June to hear Mozart’s clarinet quintet at Chamber Music Northwest’s opening night. Or maybe you just want to hear UO clarinet professor Wonkak Kim play the foundational work with a basset clarinet and an amazing regional string quartet. Delgani also hails from Eugene, and we’ve admired the spry, sensitive quartet ever since hearing them pair György Ligeti’s first string quartet with Lou Harrison’s early last year at Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival (another worthy out-of-towner that gusted through Portland and blew most of us away).

But it’s not Mozart’s quintet (Brahms’s is better) or Kim’s basset clarinet that interests us. No, what we really want is to hear something—anything—by the criminally underappreciated Florida-based composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, whose miraculous Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet was our personal “best-in-show” of CMNW 2017.

One Heart: Music for Voices

Lost | Found
Big Mouth Society
May 3, The Hallowed Halls, 4420 SE 64th Avenue, Portland
The ensemble founded and led by early music specialist and singer Emily Lau also has big talent, and big ears. This show includes vocal and instrumental chamber music by anonymous 14th-century Sephardic Jewish women, 15th century Burgundian master of melody Guillaume de Binchois, 16th century choral music paragon Palestrina, 17th century Italian pioneer Claudio Monteverdi (one of the first Baroque and opera composers), the greatest composer of the 18th century (J.S. Bach), 19th century Brit Edward Elgar, contemporary American composers Emma Lou Diemer and Eric Whitacre, and even Lau herself.

Portland State University’s Queer Opera Project returns May 7. Photo: Byisabel.

Queer Opera Kickoff Concert
May 7
PSU Queer Opera, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland
Last year, PSU collaborative piano professor Chuck Dillard introduced us to Queer Opera with two of the season’s most entertaining recitals (three, if you count Poulenc’s Les mamelles, which was the best show this exhausted reviewer attended all year). This is what we had to say about Queer Opera’s debut concerts at the time.

QO is a summer program, so they kick off their season just as other groups are ending theirs. On May 7th, community members join PSU students and faculty in a concert featuring some of the songs that thrilled us last year, along with selections from West Side Story and Jake Heggie’s song cycle Here and Gone, sung by Daniel Mobbs and ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter.

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MusicWatch Weekly: hearing the future

Family friendly and youth-oriented concerts nurture tomorrow's musical artists -- and audiences

Music, like any other art form, must prove itself to each generation if it’s going to last. That’s why classical music and jazz organizations increasingly sponsor shows suited to kids and families, like Oregon Symphony’s Sci-Fi at the Pops shows Saturday and Sunday, OSO musicians’ free Classical Up Close concerts around the metro area this week, Eugene Concert Choir’s family friendly version of its American Style concert (see below) Saturday, and Eugene Symphony’s Sunday family concert that allows the kiddos to explore symphonic music with help from a virtually reincarnated Ludwig van Beethoven himself. And Eugene’s The Shedd offers a free jazz student ticket program to shows like Sunday’s Jazz Heritage Project concert covering tunes by Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis, Harold Arlen, Billy Strayhorn, and George Gershwin, just in time to close out Jazz Appreciation Month.

FearNoMusic’s “Hearing the Future” concerts showcase music by emerging composers.

But for an art form to really remain alive and creating, we need to invest not just in teaching kids to passively “appreciate” old music — but to create new music in the classical tradition. I can’t think of a better way for the public to support music. That’s the value of FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project, which offers Portland area students coaching from the new music ensemble’s musicians and composers to help them realize their own unique visions. FNM’s latest Hearing The Future concerts showcase 30 new works by the next generation of Oregon composers.
Sunday, Portland State University Lincoln Hall.

• Arvo Pärt’s shimmering, bell-like sacred music has won listeners far beyond contemporary classical insiders, making him the most performed living classical composer since 2010. The Estonian master’ shimmering “tintinnabuli” (bell-like) style can sound both soothing and stirring, often with an astringent quality that avoids the gooey saccharinity of much contemporary choral music, leading some to dub him a “mystical minimalist.” Since turning 80 in 2015, he’s been the subject of many tributes around the world, including Portland. In White Light: The Music of Arvo Pärt, Oregon Repertory Singers contributes its own with a performance of several of Pärt’s greatest hits: the 1990 Berlin Mass (which the choir recorded in 1993), his 1985 Te Deum (which includes string orchestra and prepared piano), and the brief a cappella work The Woman with the Alabaster Box.
Saturday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers sings music by Arvo Pärt. Photo: Allison Silverberg.

Eugene Concert Choir presents a different kind of American classical music — big band jazz and Broadway show tunes from the last century, pairing the 100 voice choir with a barbershop quartet and well known Eugene performers Vicki Brabham on piano, Evynne Hollens and her fellow Broadway singer Calvin Orlando Smith.

Portland Baroque Orchestra embarks on one of its occasional ventures outside its core early 18th century comfort zone and into the later Classical period with an all Mozart program featuring two of the composer’s greatest achievements, plus his E flat Serenade, which unleashes one memorable tune — sometimes operatic and dramatic, sometimes cheery— after another. Employing a fortepiano similar to what the composer himself might have used, specialist Eric Zivian stars in Mozart’s dark, passionate 24th piano concerto, one of the greatest of all concertos. (Read Alice Hardesty’s ArtsWatch story about the instrument.) And in his magnificent final symphony, Mozart’s final movement somehow weaves five major preceding themes into a spectacular thrill ride that’s never been equaled. Though performed here in a church and a college rather than the (perhaps) originally intended casino, this is a rare chance to hear one of humanity’s grandest artistic achievements on a relatively intimate scale and instruments similar to those the composer intended.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland.

• One thing that makes Mozart’s mature music so powerful is his discovery of the music of J.S. Bach, facilitated by Bach’s youngest son Johann Christian. JC’s music along with that of his BFF Carl Friedrich Abel is the subject of Oregon Bach Collegium’s concert featuring another expert forte pianist, Margret Gries and Ann Shaffer on viola da gamba.
Sunday, United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington, Eugene.

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MusicWatch Weekly: females in the foreground

Oregon concerts put women front and center

Women’s History Month just passed, but fortunately, times are changing enough that Oregon performers and presenters are no longer confining half the human race’s creative accomplishments to only one-twelfth of the calendar year. Several concerts this week focus on women’s voices and stories.

Preview: The Passion According to an Unknown Witness from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Vimeo.

The Ensemble of Oregon commissioned one of Oregon’s most nationally recognized composers, University of Oregon prof Robert Kyr, to create The Passion According to an Unknown Witness. The hour-long composition retells the famous Passion story set by Bach and many others — from the point of view of the women who journeyed with Jesus in the myth, including Christ’s mom and Mary Magdalene. Musicians from 45th Parallel and Trinity Choir join Portland’s all star small vocal ensemble, featuring some of Oregon’s finest singers in this world premiere. Pre concert talk at 4 pm, concert 5 pm Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave, Portland.

Shirley Nanette, back in the day.

Shirley Nanette has been a prominent singer on Portland’s jazz and soul music scene for decades, with performances at national festivals, regional clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony. But like so much of the city’s African American cultural heritage, her breakthrough 1973 album, Never Coming Back, featuring some of the historically black Albina neighborhood’s top musicians of the day, sank into obscurity. Now, DJ/producer/record collector/radio host/ writer Bobby Smith, the African-American arts nonprofit World Arts Foundation, and their Albina Music Trust, are refuting the album’s title by bringing back this lost music in a live performance of the album by Nanette and the Albina Soul Revue Band, starring some of today’s top Portland soul men, who’ve played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Prince to Bootsy Collins to Ages and Ages.
Saturday, Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St. Portland.

Chamber Music Amici contributes to redressing American classical music’s long-standing gender imbalance with first-rate music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, featuring music by one of today’s leading American composers, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon. Her colorful 2003 Piano Trio’s movements reflect their respective titles: the beautifully placid, Aaron Copland style “Pale Yellow” and the incendiary “Fiery Red.” The concert, which includes some of the Eugene area’s top classical players, also features an absorbing 1834 string quartet by that other Mendelssohn, Fanny, whose brother Felix regarded as a talent equal to his own, and Amy Beach’s ardent, late Romantic 1938 Piano Trio.
Monday, Wildish Community Theater, Springfield.

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