Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival

Beach Boys bingo: We get around

ArtsWatch Weekly: As both vaccination rates and Covid concerns grow again, the arts world moves half-speed ahead. But it IS moving.

“GET AROUND GET AROUND I GET AROUND,” the Beach Boys warbled in 1964, and it’s been something of a theme song for ArtsWatch writers in the past week. Not that we’ve been booking international flights or jamming into the sardine can with the Lollapalooza crowd. But there’s been a definite sense of flexing our muscles and taking the world out for a spin, checking out places from New Zealand to the Pacific Islands to Holmes & Watson’s London to an arts hideaway amid the antique shops of Aurora, Oregon. Have we really been napping in place for the past sixteen months? Can’t we just hit the road again?

It’s a strange time following strange times. People are moving around, restless, doing things, going places. The world seems to be opening up – and also shutting down again, as if our left and right hands are in sharp disagreement about where we are and what comes next and what we should or shouldn’t do. More and more people are vaccinated – and yet, ant-vax heels are digging in deeper, and the Delta variant is shooting Covid cases higher than they’ve been in months. The governors of heavily hit states such as Texas and Florida are actively impeding efforts to contain the spread of disease. In Oregon, the state government is largely leaving public-safety decisions up to the counties as the variant spreads, and the counties are largely keeping their hands off the wheel.

Back to showbiz or bust: “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” shown in a 2019 performance, returns to Portland and Eugene in November.

Meanwhile, the arts and cultural worlds are stirring. Plan are being made. Seasons are being announced. Touring acts are on the road again. Places that have been shut down for more than a year, among them the five theaters of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, are announcing acts and dates: Jesus Christ Superstar, on yet another tour, at the Keller Aug. 28-Oct. 3. Singing satirist Randy Rainbow popping into the Schnitzer on Sept. 24, trying to discover if there’s musical-parody life after Donald Trump. Portland’s own Stumptown Stages performing Bojangles of Harlem, a musical about the great tap dancer and actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, in the Winningstad Oct. 8-30. Comedian Louis C.K. at the Newmark, Nov. 21-22. The Hip Hop Nutcracker, straddling traditions at Eugene’s Hult Center Nov. 12 and Portland’s Keller Auditorium Nov. 16. A touring bluegrass show featuring the likes of Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer at the Schnitzer on Dec. 7.

Outdoor and open-air venues that sprang to life during the pandemic are expanding their offerings, too: Portland’s Profile Theatre, for instance, continues its run of plays by Paula Vogel with a production opening Thursday of The Oldest Profession, Aug. 5-15 at the Barge Building at Zidell Yards on the city’s South Waterfront. The show’s got a crackerjack cast, including Brenda Phillips, Elizabeth Elias Huffman, JoAnn Johnson, Jane Bement Geesman, and Amalia Alarcón Morris, to go wiith Vogel’s sharp cultural and political bite. (And, yes, it’s about that oldest profession, and what happens as its practitioners age.)

A Pacific Islanders festival – and vaccines, too

Hawaiian singer and composer Kalani Pe’a will be at Saturday’s Pacifika Unity Festival.

BUT, BACK TO THE BEACH BOYS AND WHAT ARTSWATCHERS HAVE BEEN GETTING AROUND TO. In her latest Stage & Studio podcast, Pacifika Unity Festival + Kalani pe’a, Dmae Lo Roberts tips our readers and listeners to this weekend’s free outdoor Pacific Islander celebration in Hillsboro. Roberts talks with the gathering’s organizers, Manumalo “Mālō” Ala’ilima of UTOPIA PDX and Kumu Leialohaokeanuenue Ka’ula of the Oregon Pacific Islander Coalition – and with Ka-ula’s childhood friend Kalani Pe’a, who’s a two-time Grammy Award winner, and who’ll be giving his first live performance since before the pandemic. The festival, happening Saturday at Hillsboro’s Ron Tonkin Stadium, will feature music, craft vendors, food trucks – and vital health information. Bringing it all back home, Covid vaccinations will be available – and the first 200 people to get vaccinations will also get $100 gift cards. Pacific Islanders, Roberts notes, had the highest rate of Covid hospitalizations in Oregon in July.

Carla Rossi and a place for Native arts

Writer and performer Anthony Hudson, a.k.a. Carla Rossi. Photo: Joe Cantrell

RECONNECTION AND RESILIENCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY HUDSON. In her continuing series on Indigenous history and contemporary resilience in Oregon, Steph Littlebird talks with writer and performer Anthony Hudson, also known as Carla Rossi, Portland’s Premiere Drag Clown. Hudson, a registered member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and a descendant of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, talks with Littlebird about the racial and gender aspects of the Carla Rossi character, and of being Two Spirit, or nonbinary. They talk about walking a line between multiple identities and cultures. “I think when I talk about honoring my ancestors and why that’s the driving force in my work,” Hudson tells Littlebird, “it’s that especially confronting the cycles of trauma and confronting this kind of never-ending loop of settler colonialism and seeing, especially right now during the pandemic, seeing how we’re already gaslighting the survivors of this pandemic and privileging some lives over others, just like we did in the HIV AIDS pandemic.”

WATER, MEMORY, EXCHANGE: MARIANNE NICOLSON AT YALE UNION. Luiza Lukova writes about the running-water illusions of Nicolson’s installation on the top floor of Yale Union, A Feast of Light and Shadows. It’s an exhibit, Lukova writes, that “reframes the artist’s Native tradition of potlatch into a modern context” and “channels her personal connection to her Kwakwaka’wakw heritage and the tools, technologies, and space of the colonizer to weave a compelling narrative.” It’s also, Lukova declares, a fitting final exhibition for Yale Union before it turns its property over to the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation for its new national headquarters. 

At the movies: Stories of Oregon and beyond

Ryan Findley plays the leader of a biker gang in “Lorelei,” a filmed-in-Oregon story about a felon who reconnects with his high school girlfriend, a single mother of three kids.
Ryan Findley plays the leader of a biker gang in “Lorelei,” a filmed-in-Oregon story about a felon who reconnects with his high school girlfriend, a single mother of three kids.

RYAN FINDLEY: FROM DOING GUTTERS TO THE SET FOR LORELEI. David Bates didn’t have to travel far to discover the fascinating inside world of the critical indie hit Lorelei and its costar, Findley: Both men live in McMinnville, where Bates carries out a busy writing career, including creating a regular column for ArtsWatch, and Findley holds down a gig as a construction contractor – and also finds time to act on stage and television and in the movies. Lorelei is turning into a major hit among made-in-Oregon movies (see Marc Mohan’s ArtsWatch interview with director Sabrina Doyle), and Findley, who plays an ex-con who finds a new family with his old girlfriend and her three kids, is a big part of it. The ability to ride a motorcycle played into getting the role, says Findley, who pays attention to his day job (he just finished putting up an addition to his uncle’s pole barn), and is selective about the acting roles he takes: “I don’t want to be a dancing monkey. I need to enjoy it.”

WORLD FILM: SATIRE AND DRAMA. Friderike Heuer stayed even closer to home to travel the world, making some fascinating comparisons between two films available via her television set. The Pursuit of Love, she writes, is “a three-part BBC adaptation of a 1945 novel by Nancy Mitford that skewered the foibles of English gentry – a barbed satire of class and gender relations, xenophobia, and a paean to English fortitude against German War aggression” that is lush and over the top but also “has some tricks up its sleeves.” The New Zealand film Cousins, about “the intertwined fates of three cousins from a Maori background whose lives are upended by racism, colonialism, greed, and just tragic blows of fate,” has a tougher, meatier core: “I cannot recommend [it] highly enough.”

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: OPERATIC ‘ANNETTE,’ ‘WHIRLYBIRD’ & ‘NINE DAYS.’ Marc Mohan goes to the movies and reviews a busy musical starring Adam Driver, a harrowing documentary about pioneering news hawks in the sky, and a metaphysical movie about who gets born that’s served with a big ladle of philosophical gravy.

Music: Covering the territory from C to shining C

NOBODY AT ARTSWATCH HAS TRAVELED FARTHER SONICALLY, VIRTUALLY, AND IN REAL SPACE in the past week than our squad of music writers, who’ve been covering the broad swath of organized sound from C to shining C. Give ’em a listen:

Members of Oregon Repertory Singers, making music through their masks.

OUR INTENT IS NORMALCY: OREGON CHOIRS ADAPTING. It’s been a tough year-plus for choirs, which are ordinarily among the strongest features of Oregon music-making – and which also, in these far from ordinary times, are potent potential spreaders of viral particles. Daryl Browne surveys the scene, talking with members of several choirs to see how they’ve handled things. Zoom? Well … let’s just say, there are problems. So, how about zing? Why, yes! And … what’s zing? Read the story to find out. Oh: And there’s much more to it than that.

OPERA: THERE AND BACK AGAIN. They call themselves Renegade Opera, and as Bennett Campbell Ferguson discovers, there’s some truth to that. He takes in the small company’s rousing production of Orfeo in Underland – an updated adaptation of Gluck’s 1762 opera Orfeo ed Euridice – in the courtyard of downtown Portland’s First Presbyterian Church. The adaptation begins at a funeral. And as it turns out, that’s a good thing. 

NOW HEAR THIS: AUGUST. Robert Ham takes his monthly trek through the wilds of the music distributor Bandcamp’s catalog, looking for good new stuff from Oregon musicians, and emerges with a lode of lively sounds from smoldering hip hop to unaffected bluegrass and experimental music inspired by obscure paintings.

MUSICWATCH MONTHLY: THROUGH THE WEEDS. Charles Rose peers through the wildfire smoke and Covid haze and discovers, in addition to the height of blackberry season, a wealth of August music, from album release shows to neighborhood concerts, a renamed synth library, and Portland Hip Hop Week.

A HARMONIOUS MATCH FOR THE SENSES. Angela Allen gets the lowdown on this summer’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival season, which kicks off Saturday and continues through Sept. 4. Ordinarily a civilized Bacchanal of wine, food, and music among some of Oregon’s finest wineries, it’s a hybrid affair this year – some concerts (mostly sold out) at the wineries, and more livestreamed. 

ART & MUSIC: AKI ONDA’S COLLECTION OF COLLECTIONS. Music and dance, of course, go together like love and marriage. But music and art go together at least like a horse and carriage, and often much more. That’s the case, Hannah Krafcik discovers, with A Letter from Souls of the Dead, the sound-and-art exhibit at PICA in which Japan-based artist Aki Onda and several local artists “perform with the exhibit’s signature decorative hand bells—an offering that Onda described as ‘a small ritual for activating the works and pouring energy into the space.’”

Here, there, and everywhere: Art from all over

Chris Johanson, “Backwards painting” (2018). Paint on linen. 22.25 x 28 inches, at the Courtyard House in Aurora. Image courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary.

SHOWING OFF IN AURORA: “BITTER CHERRY, BLEEDING HEART.” Lindsay Costello takes a jaunt down the Willamette Valley to the onetime utopian religious colony (and now antiques hub) of Aurora, Oregon and its glass-walled, modernist architectural showplace called the Courtyard House. There, Jeanine Jablonski of the Portland gallery Fourteen30 Contemporary has installed Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart, a fascinating mixture of public and private art space.

LITWATCH MONTHLY: MYSTERY AND METAPHYSICS. Amy Leona Havin checks out August’s literary events and finds a range of possibilities, from James Lee Burke talking about his new mystery to a virtual poetry open mic to a Literary Arts treatise on “the metaphysics of deep gossip” (or so they say).

HOLMES RENOVATION: A CLASSIC TWIST. In July Portland Center Stage revived its annual summer JAW New Play Festival, which gathers national and local writers for intensive workshops and readings, offering a chance for playwrights to see how things are working when professional actors move their works-in-progress from page to stage. Valarie Smith went along for the ride, following the reading of popular playwright Kate Hamill’s latest, an updated twist on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries called Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson –  Apt. 2B.

SAM JACOBSON’S FASCINATION WITH FACES. Lori Tobias talks with the Oregon Coast clay sculptor, whose show Have We Met? opens Saturday at the Newport Visual Arts Center. “I’ve discovered how little difference there is in faces,” Jacobson says of her primary artistic obsession. “Just a slight difference in the nose or the chin and you completely change the face. A lot of what we associate with a different look has nothing to do with the face at all. It has to do with the context.”

“Late Bloomer,” by Sam Jacobson (clay sculpture, 12 by 8 inches)
Sam Jacobson, “Late Bloomer,” clay sculpture, 12 by 8 inches, in the exhibit “Have We Met?” opening Saturday at the Newport Visual Arts Center.

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A harmonious match for the senses

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival’s hybrid season of wine, food, and music

In its sixth season, the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival will go hybrid this year, with live and virtual concerts from Aug. 7 through Sept 4. 

For safety’s sake, live concert audiences in Oregon wine country are limited — cut in half from their usual number of barrel- and tasting-room concertgoers. Partly for that reason, and partly because the intimate series combining wine with music played by spectacular mostly local musicians has proved so successful, live concerts are sold out, though there is a waitlist.

Host wineries include Sokol Blosser Winery and Archery Summit in Dayton and Newberg’s J. Christopher Wines. This season, food is an extra part of the package, and tickets are more expensive ($95) than in previous years — and the concert ticket does not include food. With smaller crowds, festival organizers are encouraging the audience to mingle with musicians at post-concert patio picnics and wood-fired pizza sharing.


Listening back 2020: Oregon recordings from a fraught year

Spotlighting a last batch of 2020 Oregon recordings

I know the last thing many of us want to do is revisit 2020. But we can’t let it slip away without spotlighting one final batch of musical recommendations gleaned from the many recordings Oregon musicians released last year. Some explicitly respond to the crises that plagued what ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks calls “The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name.” Others were made earlier and released last year. Whether soothing or invigorating, they’re all worth hearing even after the year they appeared.

With most Oregon music happening on our home screens and speakers rather than stages last year, we’ve been devoting more pixels to recordings than ever. This is the last of several recording roundups explicitly devoted to last year’s Oregon sounds, but our antennae are already a-quiver over some stimulating sounds already emanating from 2021, so stay tuned for more roundups. And if you enjoy this music, please help make sure Oregon musicians can continue to create it by buying or gifting it. Bandcamp passes 100 percent of proceeds from purchases made on the first Friday of each month to the artists. 


Her Own Wings–The Music Of Gabriela Lena Frank

Although this is California music, it was recorded by Oregon musicians in the lovely acoustic of a wine barrel room during composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s residency at the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. She’s also worked with Portland’s Third Angle New Music. And of course, its title is our state motto.


Looking Back 2020: Reports from the orchestra seats

A review of our favorite ArtsWatch music stories from The Longest Year in History

What the hell happened this year?


To begin, I’d like to share a bit of MTV Generation perspective with my younger readers, those who may have never known (for instance) a pre-9/11 world. When everything shut down this spring and it all started getting extra weird, I sat dazed in my kitchen, staring out on empty streets and clear skies, and decided to ask around–how much weirder is this than 2001-03? Or, to go a bit further back, how much weirder than “the end of history” in 1989-91, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed and tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and Iraq and Panama, and the New Cold War started?

Naomi Klein will tell you that a disoriented state of helpless confusion is exactly the point of such times (“shock and awe” indeed), while Rebecca Solnit continues to remind us that these times are also opportunities for human communities to come together in solidarity and mutual aid. But regardless of catastrophe’s many and varied uses, it’s mainly just exhausting for us normal humans who must suffer history (and its end) in our daily lives.


Bending genres to the world’s shape

"Classical music remains racist," composer DBR declares. His vital music breathes the air of Prince, hip-hop, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone.

In the heatwave of the Black Lives Matter movement and the thirst to hear new multicultural classical music, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is a force to be reckoned with. 

His striking, genre-bending music will be spotlighted at this season’s third virtual Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, from Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon. His pieces include “String Quartet No. 5 (Parks),” which speaks to Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala.; and “Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes,” 24 works in each musical key. His compositions are programmed with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s final “String Quartet, Opus 135” and the little-known Baroque composer/nun Isabella Leonarda’s “Sonata #12” for violin and cello. Roumain served as one of three virtual composers-in-residence for this year’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. (See my previous festival stories, Flights of music from a barrel room and Chamber music and a virtual toast, at Oregon Arts Watch.)

Composer DBR: “My work has always been a very small part of that big fight for justice.”

DBR, Roumain’s professional name, is “an important voice, now and in the future, and his music is stunning,” festival co-director and violinist Sasha Callahan said earlier this month. “The `Parks’ quartet we’ll be playing is fierce, bold, beautiful and full of life. It’s really evocative and distinctive” — and it includes clapping, a practice that reaches back to ancient cultures. 


Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.


Chamber music and a virtual toast

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, known for blending sounds and wine, pops the cork on its fifth vintage – this time, via streaming

Minus the barrel room and live applause, members of Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival will play music for three August weekends at three stellar wineries (J. Christopher Wines, Archery Summit Winery and Sokol Blosser Winery) beginning Saturday, Aug. 8. Though you’ll have to savor the vintages at home in front of your computer, it’s a small sacrifice for these dedicated musicians’ performances. Longtime friends, the WVCMF string players have quarantined, masked up, and practiced outdoors before the festival begins.

In its fifth year—this is the first virtual one—the festival will showcase the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (this year marks his 250th anniversary) and the work of living American composers. Five contemporary composers’ works will be performed, including Portland composer/violist/Fear No Music artistic director Kenji Bunch’s “Four Flashbacks” for violin and cello. Several composers will appear virtually for question-and-answer periods after the concerts.

Music amid the (virtual) vineyards: Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival founders and directors Leo Eguchi and Sasha Callahan. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

In the past, the festival has collaborated with one composer a year. Joan Tower, Jessie Montgomery and Gabriela Lena Frank have been in residence. This season, Montgomery and Frank will show up again, along with Daniel Roumain (DBR), all of whom will be communicating virtually from their homes (Montgomery from New York City, Frank from northern California, DBR from Massachusetts). Festival directors Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi make it their mission to collaborate with BIPOC, women, unsung, and minority composers. “We deeply believe that the life and vibrancy of this art form hinges on reflecting the world we live in, with all its diverse voices and experiences,” artistic co-director Callahan says.