valery saul

Siren songs: Divas descend on Oregon

Classical vocal recitals pair singers and pianists on Oregon stages

by JEFF WINSLOW

Friends of Chamber Music is about to present the annual solo gig in its admirable Vocal Arts Series this Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM in Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University, and as always, has lined up a world-class soloist. Mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung has performed in dozens of the world’s finest opera houses and symphony halls, and with dozens of the world’s top directors and conductors. Her recordings have garnered three Grammy awards. Although most of her recording and performance activity has been with orchestra, she is no stranger to the recital stage, and FOCM has a knack for finding operatic singers who are versatile enough to make intimate partnerships with piano only, so operaphobes likely have little to fear.

Michelle DeYoung performs Sunday at Portland State University.

Michelle DeYoung performs Sunday afternoon at Portland State University.

Granted, the program of music by Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Joseph Marx has lots of dramatic numbers – and, lots of hard work for pianist Kevin Murphy! But it also includes Manuel de Falla’s subtle, incomparable masterpiece of arrangement, “Seven Spanish Folk Songs.” Few songs in all the literature speak to the heart so simply and directly (and, you may find as I do, with almost unbearable sadness), as “Asturiana.” Don’t worry, the other songs in the set run the emotional gamut, and you’ll no doubt feel like laughing at times too. (ArtsWatch readers use coupon code “Brahms” to save $10 per ticket.)

If this doesn’t satisfy your lust for pairing opera singers with pianists, check out the upcoming Portland Opera Resident Artist show, on Tuesday, March 15, 7:00 PM at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. Soprano Katrina Galka and mezzo soprano Abigail Dock will perform songs by Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Francis Poulenc, and the complete “Summer Nights” by Hector Berlioz, as well as a tribute to Judy Garland featuring American standards by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers.

Estelí Gomez performed in Portland and Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Estelí Gomez performed in Portland and Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Oregon doesn’t seem to attract many touring classical solo singers outside of opera. If not for FOCM’s vocal series and the occasional Oregon Symphony program (OSO is starting off its 2016-2017 season with a bang by hosting Renée Fleming in a return visit), they might be a real rarity. Fortunately for lovers of what is sometimes called “art song,” a number of homegrown events go on, sometimes just under the radar. Over the past several months, I’ve been able to attend three that included songs I love as well as songs rarely heard. A fourth featured Esteli Gomez, who has her own Grammy as part of the ultra-contemporary a cappella group Roomful of Teeth, singing freshly written songs by University of Oregon students accompanied by UO student musicians.

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Classical Revolution PDX / ARCO-PDX reviews: Recipe for Relevance

Portland indie classical institutions find broader audiences through innovative approaches.

Can classical music ever be hip? This month, two of Portland’s major indie classical subversives infiltrated a Portland indie pop haven with a pair of concerts that demonstrated that classical music can regain its mainstream cultural appeal — if it’s presented in 21st century context.

ARCO-PDX performed at Portland's Holocene in early August.

ARCO-PDX performed at Portland’s Holocene in early August.

Premised on the notion that classical music (and we must add, contemporary classical, although that distinction would have struck the vast majority of classical composers in history as unnecessary and even pernicious) is as universally appealing as it ever was except that the presentation is outdated for today’s audiences, ARCO-PDX’s announced goal is to bring rock and roll energy and production to classical music. In this third concert, performed earlier this month in Seattle, Eugene and Portland, it advanced farther toward that goal in some respects, but stalled in others.

The sound design seemed richer and more accurate to my ears than the group’s previous concerts at another indie rock club, Mississippi Studios and rawer party space, Refuge PDX, in Portland’s industrial inner east side. The group seems to have resolved most of the tuning issues that occasionally bugged me in their earlier shows. Provided by DB Amorin and Cymaspace, the visual effects seemed subtler and more sophisticated than I remember from earlier shows, and though it left the stage darker, it also complemented the performance rather than calling attention to the images. 

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