Weekend MusicWatch: Back to the 20th century


Caitlin Mathes sang Weill and more at The Late Now earlier this month. Image: Kathryn Elsesser Photography.

Caitlin Mathes sang Weill and more at The Late Now earlier this month. Image: Kathryn Elsesser Photography.

After a couple of relatively fallow weeks, Oregon classical music comes roaring back this weekend with one (or actually, two, I guess) of its biggest names: on Thursday, Lang Lang will play one of the most delightful of 20th century piano concertos, Prokofiev’s third, with the Oregon Symphony at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The popular Chinese pianist’s guest starring gig heads up an appealing, mostly 20th century program of music by Aaron Copland (“El Salon Mexico,” “Billy the Kid” ballet suite) and Tchaikovsky’s appropriately sunny postcard, “Italian Caprice.”

There’s more Prokofiev (his Haydn-esque Symphony #1), and more 20th century masterpieces, including Manuel de Falla’s spellbinding “Love, the Magician” on the program Sunday afternoon at the Salem Chamber Orchestra’s season-opening concert at Willamette University’s Hudson Hall.

And still more Prokofiev, as well as yet another Russian view of Italy, graces downtown Portland’s Old Church on Sunday night when the Oregon Symphony’s concertmaster, Sarah Kwak, joins busy pianist Cary Lewis at in the first of a five-part 2013-2014 concert series produced in partnership with the city’s listener- supported radio station, All Classical 89.9, and 45th Parallel, the valuable presenting organization that has brought so many fine shows to the secular church and other venues in the past few years. Along with Prokofiev’s “Five Melodies,” the delectable menu includes Stravinsky’s “Italian Suite” drawn from the composer’s music for the ballet “Pulcinella,” which itself was inspired by Italian Baroque sounds, and sonatas by another wonderful 20th century composer, Francis Poulenc, and Richard Strauss.

Unfortunately, that concert conflicts with another highly recommended show. Why couldn’t one of them have happened during the past couple of slow weekends?! Over at Vie de Boheme, the inner east side Portland wine bar, one of Portland Opera’s young stars, Caitlin Mathes, will sing songs by still another 20th century master, Kurt Weill, in a concert sponsored by Classical Revolution PDX, which in recent months has transcended its lovably amateur (in the best sense of that word) origins to draw some of the city’s finest musicians, although there’s still plenty of room for those who play just for the love and fun of it. Mathes has been one of the most successful products of the Opera’s worthy Resident Artist program, which brings some of the country’s most promising young singers to Portland where they can develop their skills in PO productions. Although I thought she was miscast as the lead in the opera’s otherwise excellent production of “Rinaldo” last season, Mathes gave one of last year’s most impressive vocal recitals during her showcase at Whitsell Auditorium and she’s had other stellar moments in her PO run. Her winning theatrical style should provide an entertaining vehicle for some of the last century’s sharpest theater music. It’s felicitous for Mathes, though unfortunate for Oregon, that she’s moving to New York (via Indianapolis, where she’ll be singing Weill’s music with the opera) after this farewell concert, so catch her while you can.

Speaking of Portland Opera, you can catch is chorus in an open, outdoor rehearsal at downtown Portland’s Director Park Sunday afternoon. Or you can spend your Sunday afternoon hearing organists Jonas and Chris Nordwall playing Renaissance to ragtime music at southeast Portland’s Tabor Heights United Methodist Church.

And speaking of cabaret, the Oregon Symphony is also backing Meow Meow on Saturday night in the TBA Festival. The program might include anything from Grieg to Glass to Gershwin, and maybe even some Weill as well. The cheeky cabaret comidienne/chanteuse will be joined by her buddy Thomas Lauderdale on piano. And on Monday, he’ll be performing with his own band, Pink Martini, at a free concert in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square to celebrate the release of their new album, “Get Happy.”

Lutenist Hideki Yamaya leads Musica Maestrale Saturday night.

Lutenist Hideki Yamaya leads Musica Maestrale Saturday night.

The Baroque music season kicks off Saturday night when the Early Music Guild of Oregon and Musica Maestrale perform ensemble music of Elizabethan England at southeast Portland’s Community Music Center. It’s a rich program of so-called “broken consort” music for rarely convened (these days, anyway) mixed instrumentation – violin, recorder,  bass viol plus plucked-up stringed instruments including lute, cittern and bandora – by great Brits like Matthew Locke, John Dowland and more.

Public drunkenness, insulting a public official, jail time, wild parties, lewd flirting, disguises, inebriated singing, deception, revenge, sneaky affairs… must be back to college time! Actually, it’s actually “The Bat,” (“Die Fledermaus”), Johann Strauss’s ever-popular 1874 operetta, which Cascadia Concert Opera is performing around Oregon this month and next. The champagne and waltz fueled frothy comedy, whose plot revolves around comeuppances and scheming about extra marital dalliances, is this year’s production from CCO, the Eugene-based group that for the past few years has brought scaled-down but high spirited concert performances (in English and accompanied by piano) of popular operas to small venues such as churches, senior centers, and other places and audiences who might not otherwise encounter it. You can see it in Salem and Portland at the Old Church next Wednesday, and catch a preview at 2 pm this Saturday, September 14 at Eugene’s Atrium Building, with performances later this month in Salem and again in Eugene next month.

Finally, if you missed the Eugene Symphony’s acclaimed performance of Portland composer Tomas Svoboda’s new Clarinet Concerto featuring the orchestra’s veteran clarinetist Michael Anderson last April, you can hear a movement from it at about 8:40 am this Friday, September 13 on KWAX FM, the University of Oregon’s classical radio station. The American Public Media program Performance Today is broadcasting that premiere performance, the orchestra’s first national broadcast in nearly two decades. You can hear the performance at kwax.com as well as over the air in the Eugene area, and on demand for the next week. The orchestra commissioned the concerto from Svoboda, the dean of Oregon composers, and its success demonstrates again that cultivating new music from Oregon composers is a win win for orchestras and listeners alike. For years, Oregon orchestras’ programming has mostly been woefully conservative, unimaginative and neglectful of new music in general and Oregon music in particular, so the Eugene Symphony deserves kudos for commissioning this splendid new addition to the classical music repertoire, and, through the long range plan instituted a few years ago and now paying dividends, for making a long overdue commitment to contemporary Oregon music.

And speaking of Oregon music on the air, next Thursday, it’ll air the first of four broadcasts from the OSO’s most recent season. This one features one of the most impressive contemporary works by a living composer, Thomas Ades’ searing “Asyla,” Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” with cellist Alban Gerhardt – and still more Prokofiev, the suite from his ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” The OSO plays Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev – sort of brings us full circle.

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