Weekend MusicWatch: Celebrating the Revolution

Resonance Ensemble sang French music at Lewis & Clark College

The inmates haven’t exactly taken over the asylum yet, but the insurgent musicians of Classical Revolution PDX have suddenly become a prized local institution right before our eyes. They were hardly the first to play classical music in Portland rock clubs and coffeehouses, but CRPDX has certainly contributed mightily to the spread of classical music beyond traditional concert halls and made the music more accessible to Portland audiences and musicians. The movement celebrates its fifth anniversary Saturday at the site of its original eruption, the Waypost, and features guest artist Lara Downes, the San Francisco Bay area based pianist who starred at last summer’s Portland International Piano Festival, performing a baker’s dozen of new compositions she commissioned from contemporary composers inspired by J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Along with music by Portland composer Tomas Svoboda, Maurice Ravel, Rebecca Clarke and more, the celebration includes a costume competition and dance party featuring fellow travelers in the Electric Opera Company, who play classical music on rock instruments.

One of the most impressive expressions of this year’s Oregon indie classical scene, You’re Still So Beautiful, closes this weekend at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland. Opera Theater Oregon’s dreamy take on Claude Debussy’s haunting opera, Pelleas and Melisande, also features projected scenes from the classic 1961 French film Last Year at Marienbad.

Speaking of music and theater, anyone who enjoyed Imago Theater’s recent triumph, The Black Lizard (which will be returning this fall) might want to check out the latest production staged by an important member of its creative team, Portland State University professor Laurence Kominz, who’s brought several Japanese theater works to the city over the years. The Medicine Peddler is a kabuki play with live musical accompaniment by PSU’s new taiko ensemble, which will also perform in concert Sunday at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall.

Also at PSU, in a co-sponsorship with Chamber Music Northwest, the school’s adventurous orchestra, led by visionary conductor Ken Selden, performs its season ending concert Friday featuring one of the 20th century’s greatest concertos, the one Alban Berg wrote in 1935 in memory of the untimely death of his friend Alma Mahler’s young daughter. Acclaimed young soloist Jennifer Frautschi will be familiar to Oregon audiences from earlier appearances here. Prof. Selden, to his credit, makes sure that his young charges are familiar with the music of their own time as well as that of their ancestors, so the symphony will also perform music by Brahms and part of a vibrant 2001 chamber concerto that draws on 1920s cabaret influences, by the contemporary Austrian composer HK Gruber.

Another important Portland alternative music institution, the Creative Music Guild, hosts a major event this Friday and Saturday at southeast Portland’s Bamboo Grove Salon. The Improvisation Summit of Portland includes live scores to two films:  a multi-screen projection performance of Timothy Treadwel’s Thirteen Summers and a classic film curated by alt classical Portland institution Filmusik. Drummer/composer/sound artist Tim DuRoche leads a panel discussion, and the weekend includes workshops for musicians and dancers. Some of Portland’s most intriguing bands, including  Grouper, Blue Cranes, Jonathan Sielaff, Sam Coomes, Rebecca Gates (from the late lamented Spinanes) and more will join visiting  artists John Gruntfest and Gino Robair (who’ll lead large group ensembles), choreographers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, and many other artists who make it up as they go. Still another alternative multimedia arts production happens at Portland’s Disjecta art center this weekend when the Night Shade shadow puppet theater company unveils its newest shadow play accompanied by Portland rock band Japanther.

Portland Chamber Orchestra, the most innovative of the area’s mainstream orchestras, joins one of the city’s most prominent choirs, the Oregon Repertory Singers, in a performance of Mozart’s glorious Requiem and his delightful Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola soloists at Hillsboro’s St. Matthew Catholic Church Friday and Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Saturday. Renowned singer Richard Zeller stars, and the performance features some of tomorrow’s stars too.

More young Portland musicians strut their stuff on stage at the Schnitz on Sunday, when the Metropolitan Youth Symphony performs its final concert with founder Lajos Balogh as its music director, capping an extraordinary 38-year career at MYS’s helm. They’ll perform symphonies by Schubert and Sibelius and the opening movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto.

Baroque music gets underway in Eugene this weekend — but it’s not quite yet time for the summer’s biggest Oregon classical music event, the Oregon Bach Festival. Instead, the period-instrument specialists of the Oregon Bach Collegium join members of Ensemble Primo Secento at Central Lutheran Church Friday to perform music of the Italian Baroque. On Saturday and Sunday, the University of Oregon Opera Ensemble performs Handel’s great opera Julius Caesar in Egypt — in a production that sends the story into outer space in a science fictional production. Also on Saturday, two Eastern European oriented ensembles — Eugene’s Kef and Seattle’s Dunava — converge at Eugene’s WOW Hall to play, sing and dance music from the Balkan nations and beyond.

Ethan Sperry leads PSU choirs in global rhythms

Speaking of world music, anyone who wonders why I shine a spotlight on student musicians like those at the UO and PSU should have seen and heard various PSU choirs’ rollicking performances of global rhythms at Portland’s First United Methodist Church last Friday. PSU choir director Ethan Sperry specializes in choral arrangements of music from beyond European and American borders, and he led the excellent Chamber Choir in percussion-fueled music from Haiti, gospel and  spiritual numbers (both upbeat and slow cooking), one of his Bollywood arrangements, a medieval Georgian love song, andmore. The school’s new Man Choir sang more spirituals and an ear tingling original work using a drone and Indian music scale  by student composition contest winner Punya Jain, while the women’s Vox Femina choir sang member Stacey Phillips’s striking competition winner, Sirens, plus another Bollywood number, a spicy harmony Bulgarian folksong and more. The University Choir lined up in the aisles to sing Paull Halley’s Ubi Caritas and then a big U2 hit from the stage, abetted by guitar and tambourine. All choirs combined for an exuberant finale that culminated in the Bollywood number Jai Ho. With students dancing, laughing, playing percussion, and in general having a blast while maintaining high musical standards, these PSU choir productions are some of the most fun happening on Portland musical stages.

One of the Northwest’s finest professional choirs, Resonance Ensemble, offered a fine feast of French sounds on Saturday and Sunday at Lewis & Clark College and Vancouver’s Skyview Hall. The splendid soprano Catherine van der Salm strolled on stage singing music by Renaissance composer Janequin, followed by Julians founder Kristen Buhler, Ben Kinkley and Brian Tierney, the singer wounded in a shooting in March who sounded in fine form throughout. What a treat it was to see him back on stage. Guest conductor Bruce Browne led the group’s masterfully nuanced performance of Frank Martin’s music from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which highlighted the plush sound of the ensemble’s tenors and basses. Twentieth century comoser Cesar Geoffray’s Triptyque Marial demonstrated the ensemble’s easy lightness and strength at soft volume — never an easy feat. They made it look effortless. Another rarely heard work by a much better known composer, Darius Milhaud (who spent many years teaching at California’s Mills College after his years as one of Paris’s Les Six), Babylon, showed the singers’ mastery of rhythmic complexity. It was the revelation of the evening for me. The main course, selections from Francis Poulenc’s Figure Humaine, showed off the poignant delicacy of Resonance’s superb sopranos. The audience could hear every line clearly.

The choir followed with an excellent rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s whimsical music from Lillian Hellman’s play, The Lark. It was a treat to hear the original version of music that Portland Symphonic Choir sang last month in a later incarnation, his Missa Brevis, especially after hearing a contemporaneous Bernstein-Hellman collaboration, Candide, at Portland Opera. The show concluded with lightweight French folk songs and a little Haitian number about coffee that added a little stagy action involving a coffee mug, a flask, light percussion, and sly soprano Mel Downie Robinson. The music was augmented throughout by projections of appropriate French paintings that were a little hard to make out because of the bright stage lighting, but that hardly interfered with the sense of delight offered by these immaculate performance of mostly unfamiliar yet utterly compelling music.

One Response.

  1. bob priest says:

    just back from ken selden’s program @ psu.

    gruber’s piece was the concert’s highlight for me. so much so that my next stop is amazon to order a copy of the recording . . .

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