ten grands

Play it Forward: restoring music education

This month's Virtual Supper Club event supports pianist Michael Allen Harrison's program to bring music lessons to Oregon students

When Michael Allen Harrison was growing up in 1960s Portland, arts education enriched his life. “All the public schools had band programs, strings programs, choir, theater, painting, sculpture,” he remembers. “There were piano teachers in every neighborhood. We had everything at our fingertips to figure out what we were good at, what inspired us.”

What inspired Harrison was playing piano and composing music. He used the skills and qualities he gained from his arts education to become one of the most successful pianists in so-called New Age music, found his own record label, record more than 60 albums, score musicals, films, ballets, theater productions and orchestral compositions, and much more. He was recently inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

Michael Allen Harrison

But as his own star rose, Harrison watched with disappointment and then alarm as his home state systematically dismantled the public school arts education system that had so enriched his life and helped him create the music that delighted so many listeners. 

Harrison decided to do something about it. He resolved to help restore access to music education to Oregonians who couldn’t afford it. Two decades ago, he created the Snowman Foundation program to support music education in Oregon and eventually Seattle, then the Ten Grands fundraising concert to bring pianos to students whose families couldn’t afford them. And three years ago, his Play it Forward program embarked on the culminating phase of his original vision. 

But like so many other worthy educational and musical efforts this year, Play it Forward has had to shift gears — though the engine is still running strong and moving forward. And this week, Oregon arts lovers can help.

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MusicWatch Weekly: psychedeliclassical

Trippy visuals and more enhance Oregon classical music concerts

Classical music still lags a ways behind, say, the reggae community when it comes to appropriately celebrating 4/20. Admittedly, the some of the thrill has kind of, uh, gone up in smoke since Oregon finally ended the preposterous cannabis Prohibition, but it’s never too late explore the possibilities of imbibing ear-opening music with mind-altering visuals, and this week offers a couple of psychedelicious opportunities.

Radiance Orb prepares for its Hult Center trip.

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony’s The Color of Sound concert spotlights Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s notorious expansive voluptuous music, which partakes in both Romanticism and Impressionism. Whether or not he was actually gifted by synthesthesia, the crazy visionary Russian composer (like others then and now) “saw” sounds as colors — the note A was green, for example. His score for Prometheus included a part for a “light organ” that could display colors corresponding to the pitches in his music, but he was born a century or so too soon for technology to fully accommodate his vision. Fortunately, the mad scientist/artists at Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play have arrived to help the ESO realize Scriabin’s vision for that proto-psychedelic 1910 piano concerto (subtitled Poem of Fire), with an eight-foot keyboard-controlled “Radiance Orb” suspended above the stage projecting tapestries of light around Silva Hall matched to the music.

The show also includes Scriabin’s famous 1908 fourth symphony, Poem of Ecstasy, which zooms from erotic to mystic to cosmic, plus short classical greatest hits by Handel, Grieg, Debussy, Pärt and more. ESO should sell edibles out in the lobby before this one.
Thursday, Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.

• As should Cascadia Composers, whose 4/20 All Wired Up concert doubledose features more than a dozen of the region’s most accomplished composers, including some of its most promising next-gen voices. This mini festival of new electronic music includes original homegrown compositions for electric guitar and bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, oboe, amplified trumpet and horn, piano, organ, and interactive fixed media. Then they add projections, modern dance, even an aerial drone. And that’s just the 4 pm show.

After a break (including an optional talk about “data-driven instruments” by prog/electronic/algorithmic composer percussionist Steve Joslin and electronic music and soundscape wizard Mei-Ling Lee), the video-enhanced 7 pm concert includes video/sound art for percussion, electronics, piano, electric guitar and fixed media. Composers include Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Dana Reason, Paul Safar, Brian Field, Greg Steinke, Nicholas Yandell, Matthew Andrews, Ted Clifford, Jennifer Wright, Tristan Bliss, Antonio Celaya, Stacey Philipps, Vivian Elliot, Mei-Ling Lee, Jeffrey Ericson Allen, Joshua Hey, Greg Bartholomew, and Daniel Brugh.
Saturday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.

• The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating Extradition Series features 20th- and 21st-century experimental music that often blurs the imaginary line between composition and improvisation. The five pieces in Saturday’s concert leave many artistic choices up to the interpreters. A score by Bay Area composer Danny Clay consists of a large wooden box containing dice, playing cards, a clock, marbles, and instructions to the performers to turn the melange into music. Alexis Porfiriadis’s Happy Notes, Sad Notes gives performers ten “episodes” of graphic symbols and a series of questions regarding how they are to be interpreted (“Are these happy notes? Shall we play them?”) and invites them to take it from there. Performers include harpist Sage Fisher (Dolphin Midwives), clarinetist Lee Elderton, Branic Howard on guitar/electronics, pianist Matt Carlson, oboist Catherine Lee (oboe), cellist Collin Oldham, trumpeter Douglas Detrick, flutist Maxx Katz, percussionist Matt Hannafin, and more.
Saturday. Leaven Community, Portland.

Trotter & McNeal perform Friday and Saturday.

• In Golden Organ, Margaret McNeal and Stephanie Lavon Trotter use electronic and acoustic music and voice to “reclaim Opera.” This weekend’s “performative installation,” and there was a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, includes original compositions, improvisations, multimedia and more. C
Friday and Saturday, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: August catch-up

A new month brings more music festivals to Oregon

Keeping up with even the segment of Oregon’s increasingly busy music scene ArtsWatch can afford to cover (and we’d love to do more, if our readers and Oregon music institutions will help us pay for it) is nearly impossible when the season’s in full swing. It’s all we can do to tell you what’s about to happen, so you don’t miss the stuff you want to hear. That’s why we prioritize previews and reviews of continuing productions, like multi-performance operas. Readers have complained about us piling too many music stories at once, so we try to keep it to a maximum of one per day, which is about all we can handle with our current resources anyway.

That often means that reviews of non-recurring shows get pushed to the end of the line, or rather the end of the season. Which is where we find ourselves this month. With a few notable exceptions, most classical and jazz music institutions pretty much shut it down beginning in June, when western Oregonians at last joyously receive parole from our rain-huddled winter and spring imprisonment and head outside. Most of the rest, like the Astoria and Oregon Coast and Oregon Bach Festivals and Chamber Music Northwest, also call it a season when the smoke begins to descend. Which gives our writers (many of whom are working musicians and/or have day jobs) a chance to catch our breaths (figuratively at least) and finally catch up on those reviews they hadn’t time and/or we hadn’t room to deliver earlier.

That’s why you’ve been seeing reviews of events stretching back to early 2018 lately, and will be seeing more in coming weeks as our writers, once again stuck inside avoiding wildfire smoke, continue working through their backlogs. We hope you enjoy the memories until the new shows commence.

English conductor Jeremy Summerly (center) led a vocal ensemble at the 2017 William Byrd Festival.

Which actually is, er, now! Yes, while a couple of major festivals close this weekend, no fewer than four more music festivals begin this week, including the annual William Byrd Festival, which runs August 10-26 at several Portland venues. Now embarking on its third decade of bringing Renaissance choral music to Portland, the annual festival includes public lectures, open-to-the-public choral performances at church services, an organ recital, and a pair of public concerts. Friday’s opening concert at Portland’s Old Church, directed by renowned English choral conductor Jeremy Summerly, features masterpieces from 1610-11 — the transitional period between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Friday also marks the opening of the annual Sunriver Music Festival, with a concert celebrating the centenary of one of America’s mightiest men of music, Leonard Bernstein. Along with his ballet score Fancy Free and joyously jazzy Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, the concert includes Rhapsody in Blue by one of Bernstein’s great inspirations, George Gershwin, and a brief, brash, bustling 1992 work by the American composer whose new Passion was premiered last month at the Oregon Bach Festival.

Composer Richard Danielpour works with the Oregon Bach Festival chorus in preparation for the premiere of his ‘Yeshua Passion.’

“While Toward the Splendid City was composed as a portrait of New York, the city in which I live,” Richard Danielpour has written, he actually began it during his year-long residency with the  Seattle Symphony, a Northwest sojourn which not surprisingly gave him “serious second thoughts about returning to New York. Life was always complicated in the city and easier, it seemed, everywhere else. I was, however, not without a certain pang of nostalgia for my hometown, and as a result Toward the Splendid City was driven by my love-hate relationship with New York. The work’s title comes from the heading of Pablo Neruda’s 1974 Nobel Prize address.” He wound up going back anyway.

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MusicWatch Weekly: piano playground

Second annual Piano Day highlights a skimpy week in Oregon live music

Spring break may have broken Oregon’s music calendar this week, but there’s still something to celebrate. Portland is celebrating the international Piano Day again. Last year, Portland Piano International brought the worldwide event, which was started by German pianist Nils Frahm (who happens to be coming to Portland this week too!) in 2015, to Oregon for the first time. This year, it’s sponsoring  performances at a half dozen locations in the metro area. Pianists of diverse ages and skill levels signed up to play pianos at each spot, and asked friends to sponsor them, with all funds raised going to support PPI’s valuable education programs. Check the website for the ebony and ivories nearest you.

There’ll be ten — count ’em! — pianos onstage at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when Michael Allen Harrison’s annual Ten Grands show returns Saturday night. From Portland cops to prodigy pianists and composers to blues and jazz masters  to renowned players like Tom Grant and the founder himself, a parade of pianists will help raise funds for Harrison’s admirable Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth in the Northwest.

Speaking of Frahm, the visionary composer is indeed performing Tuesday at Revolution Hall, but the show’s been sold out for weeks. You can and should check out his latest, splendid album, though, or really any of them.

Nils Frahm is playing in Portland but if you don’t have a ticket already, you can participate in the Piano Day he created. Photo: Alexander Schneider.

You missed out on Hamilton tickets in Portland and Seattle — but you can catch the Hamilton of the ‘70s when A Chorus Line arrives this weekend at Eugene’s Hult Center. The 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (which also scored nine Tony awards including Best Musical) was the longest running show in Broadway history till that time. ACL set the template for many of the most successful musicals that followed. Marvin Hamlisch’s sparkling score, one of the most memorable ever composed for a musical, still moves the heart, as does the story of 17 veteran dancers auditioning for spots on a Broadway chorus line just before they age out of a tough business.

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