tudor choir

Tudor Choir review: wall of sound

Seattle ensemble’s concert of early English and contemporary American choral music offers intriguing programming but monochromatic performance

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

The Tudor Choir re-opened for business this month. On hiatus since 2015, the ensemble presented one concert in their hometown of Seattle and two more in the Portland Metro area, at St. Mary’s Cathedral and in Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church. The latter is a wonderfully accessible venue with a reverberant acoustic, challenging but with potential for this concert’s Tudor period music in which melismatic lines and reiterated melodies are woven through cleanly defined harmonies – when the choir and director find a way to bring this to the fore.

To a degree, the performance undermined that perfection of detail by creating a uniform wall of sound that obfuscated inner phrasing, was mostly uni-dynamic throughout, and void of nuance. There were, however, many wonderful duets that provided sonic and textural relief from the unvarying full-voiced mass sections.

Seattle’s Tudor Choir performed in Hillsboro, Portland, and Seattle. Photo: Sarah Wolf / Catholic Sentinel.

These concerts presented the music of two composers from an England in ecclesiastic turmoil. The music of John Taverner and John Sheppard represented some of the earliest examples of English choral polyphony. With insightful programming, however, founding conductor Doug Fullington ventured to the opposite extreme and paired that duo with two contemporary American composers: Jeff Junkinsmith and Nico Muhly. The gap of four centuries was bridged by subject matter and a common tune.

The performance, however, never quite rose above the purely technical. The music was not allowed to bloom and breathe. Of the thirteen voices, all but one was featured as a soloist throughout the ten-work program. Each was sumptuous, well trained with near perfect intonation. The entire ensemble blended vowels; entrances and releases were as one.

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MusicWatch Weekly: wonder women

Music by women, young musicians, Mexican and immigrant composers highlight the week’s Oregon concerts

Our regnant political culture seems to be waging war on everyone who doesn’t belong to the long-dominant ruling class. Let’s hope it’s the last gasps. This week’s Oregon music offers life-affirming musical retaliation from those (sometimes literal) targets: young people, women, immigrants, Mexicans, and more.

Women’s voices and music were long silenced by overt or de facto oppression, but a couple of Portland concerts this weekend shows just how much female composers had — and have — to offer.

Wright, Marsh, and Philipps wrote the music for Burn After Listening’s Saturday concert.

On Saturday at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland composers collective Burn After Listening New Music returns for its second presentation: (Dis)connect: New Music for Challenging Times, with original compositions by three top Portland female composers. Some stars of Oregon classical music — Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet and singer Laura Beckel Thoreson — join  violist Christina Ebersohl (whom we’ll have more about next month), dancer Christina Wolken, writer Katie Boehnlein in multimedia creations by Lisa Ann Marsh, Stacey Philipps, and Jennifer Wright. You can also experience Disjecta’s current exhibition by yet another female Oregon artist, Portia Munson’s large-scale installation, Flood. And yes, Wright’s Skeleton Piano will rattle its bones.

Christina Ebersohl performs at Burn After Listening’s show.

Also on Saturday night (alas) at Northwest Dance Project and also Sunday afternoon (yay!) at The Hallowed Halls, another newish Portland ensemble, the Broken Consort, presents its second performance. Sirens, Interrupted features not only contemporary music by founder/composer/singer/social advocate/Big Mouth Emily Lau (the cantata excerpt In Praise of Menstruation), but also the premiere of Maggie Finnegan’s Assemble with Care, an autobiographical cantata of the experience of a rape victim, plus Oregon premieres of music by a pair of renowned 20th century women, Meredith Monk and Pauline Oliveros, one of today’s rising female composers, Kate Soper.

The Broken Consort performs music by women on Saturday and Sunday.

The concert also connects today’s female composers with a long tradition of women’s classical music, from the virtuosic vocal music by independent 13th century Spanish nuns in the Las Huelgas Codex to the pioneering works by 17th century Italy’s all-female musicians’ collective Concerto Delle Donne and more. Lau, a board member of Early Music America, was a force in Boston’s flourishing early music scene before relocating to Portland, and performers include early music and contemporary music specialists from around the nation.

Speaking of early-contemporary music combos, Seattle’s Tudor Choir commissioned another contemporary composer much influenced by folk music, much-acclaimed Philip Glass protege Nico Muhly, to create a new piece, Small Raine, which they’ll sing in concerts presented by Cappella Romana Saturday night at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch and Sunday afternoon at Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church, 475 SE 3rd Ave. The centuries-spanning program also includes English Renaissance composer John Taverner’s 16th-century Western Wind Mass, and more.

Another recommended choral concert: Portland State University’s award-winning choirs’ centennial tribute to Leonard Bernstein Friday and Sunday at First United Methodist Church. Along with his masterful Chichester Psalms, the show also  features music by living composers who were heavily influenced by Bernstein, including the Northwest premieres of new works by British composer Tarik O’Regan and American composer Eric Whitacre.

The Tudor Choir performs Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Hillsboro. Photo: William Stickney Photography.

Speaking of female Oregon composers, as we were earlier, Sunday’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony concert features music by two more: MYS violinist and composer Katie Palka’s The Breathing Earth and Corvallis composer/violinist Jayanthi Joseph’s Olam. Even the main composition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever-thrilling Scheherazade, celebrates a woman who used her creativity to survive. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch feature about this concert and Palka tomorrow.

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