willamette falls symphony

MusicWatch Weekly: generation next

Music by and for young Oregonians highlights this week's concerts

It’s probably too late for the next generations to save our planet from the greed and selfishness of their elders, but at least they’ll have music to console them. Young musicians, like young Americans in general, do give me what little hope remains for our future. This month offers numerous opportunities to hear music by and for young Oregonians.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays new and old music this weekend.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony teams up with Fear No Music’s valuable Young Composers Project in the inaugural performance of its new series of student commissions called “The Authentic Voice,” presented and performed by MYS. Sunday’s concert at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall features Tone Poem No. 1: Orpheus and Eurydice, a brand new piece composed and conducted by high school senior Jake Safirstein, one of three composers who this year receive supportive training in a series of private lessons and small group workshops led by Fear No Music’s master musicians in addition to orchestral readings with MYS’s Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes Italian-themed music by Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, plus music that’s delighted kids for decades when it appeared in Fantasia: Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Saturday concert in the same venue offers a rare opportunity to hear music by the dean of African American classical composers, William Grant Still, whose still-appealing music, often drawing on folk traditions, was underplayed in his lifetime because of racism, orchestras’ snobbish disdain for American composers, and mid-century trend-setters’ fear of music that could be enjoyed by broad audiences. That included Still’s 1957 American Scene: Five Suites for Young Americans, one of those worthy but neglected works by African American composers that Damien Geter wrote about in his ArtsWatch story last month. Along with its The Far West section, PYP will play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist 17-year-old violinist Aaron Greene, winner of PYP’s 2018-19 Soloist Competition, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. Next month, we’ll tell you about FNM’s own concert pertaining to children and our future.

Violinist Aaron Greene performs with Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo: Brian Clark

• We’re getting an early jump on next Wednesday’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras Breaking the Cage, a multi-media event at Portland’s Old Church featuring collective compositions by the young BRAVO musicians (some with personal connections to immigration) responding to the cruel detentions and family separations perpetrated by the government at America’s southwestern border. Along with ashort documentary film about the project, the show also features engaging Portland looping violinist and songwriter Joe Kye.

• Audiences should also look a lot younger than usual at the Oregon Symphony’s Tchaikovsky vs. Drake concert at Schnitzer Thursday night. Guest conductor Steve Hackman, perpetrator of last season’s similarly conceived “Brahms vs. Radiohead” program, this time brings three singers and a rapper to mashup a dozen hits by Drake (whose Scorpion is the year’s biggest album so far) with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with help from Dance West and Pacific Youth Choir.

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MusicWatch Weekly: stagy sounds

From opera to musicals to concerts influenced by musical theater, this week’s Oregon stages teem with music written for dramatic productions.

This year’s PAMTA Awards may be history, Cabaret has closed and Les Miz and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s United States of Broadway don’t arrive till next week, but this week still offers abundant opportunities to hear music that originated in musicals, opera and other dramatic productions. 

 “Portland Opera’s brewing up a deal with the devil with its latest production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, opening June 8, and it’s likely to attract sizable audiences,” ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks, who apparently traded his soul for extensive knowledge of visual art, theater and music, told subscribers to our newsletter last week. “Something about this legend’s been fascinating readers and theater- and music-lovers for centuries. The thirst for knowledge, the overwhelming desire for pleasure and experience, the human who would be more than a god, the man with the ambition and arrogance to believe he can outwit the devil, or who just cares about winning right now so much that he doesn’t quite believe the future price he’s agreed to pay. The ripples of the story are everywhere, from politics to business to people’s love lives: win now, and damn the consequences.

Portland Opera’s ‘Faust’ opens this weekend. Photo: Corey Weaver.

“Portland Opera’s new Faust – a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it premiered in March – is based visually on a world created by sculptor and artist John Frame. But the story he interprets is ageless. Gounod’s opera is based mostly on Part 1 of Goethe’s famous version of a legend that stretches back to a real person from the 15th and 16th centuries, Johann Georg Faust (and various other medieval/Renaissance folk characters) and forward to, well, at least now. Christopher Marlowe famously dropped in for a visit, as did traveling puppeteers who used Faust and Mephistopheles as sort of stock Punch-and-Judy characters. Turgenev and Thomas Mann tackled the subject. So did Berlioz and Wagner and Mahler and Liszt. Stephen Vincent Benét had fun with it in “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and legend has it that the blues guitarist Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in exchange for musical greatness (practice and innate talent no doubt had more to do with it). In István Szabó’s great 1981 movie Mephisto, based on Klaus Mann’s novel, a German actor essentially sells his soul to the Nazis in exchange for prestige and success.

“So, here comes Gounod’s Faust again. Our advice? Give the devil his due. But lend the opera your eyes and ears.” Our kissin’ cousin Artslandia’s new Toi Toi Toi magazine for Portland Opera has interviews with production designer Frame and star soprano Angel Blue. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review. And ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley will soon have the scoop on a couple of other musical theater productions onstage, Portland Center Stage’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Mocks Crest’s The Light in the Piazza.

When it appeared in 1970s, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass was, er, crucified by some who disapproved of the great American composer/conductor transforming sacred music into show tunes, or, even worse, rock and/or roll. Bernstein, whose centenary this year has occasioned numerous performances of his always dramatic music, just couldn’t keep theater out of even his non-Broadway compositions. He even called his Mass “a theater piece.”

Directed by Jon Kretzu and conducted by Justin Smith, Stumptown Stages’ new production Saturday and Sunday at Marylhurst University’s St. Anne Chapel stars stalwart baritone Douglas Webster as the Celebrant (a role he pretty much owns) plus the terrific Julianne Johnson, Katie Harman and Broadway veteran Kirk Mouser, experienced local soloists, Marylhurst Choral Union, Women’s Chorale and Pacific Youth Choir. Co-created by Marylhurst University’s music department, it’s an example of the loss to Oregon arts caused by the school’s impending closure.

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