Weekend MusicWatch: Everything new is old again

Eugene Ballet performs The Rite of Spring and other Stravinsky works this weekend

The past few weeks’ profusion of new music has led us to slight coverage of some magnificent old sounds. The Stuttgart Chamber Choir lived up to Mark Powell’s OAW preview with immaculate performances of music by J.S. Bach, Gyorgy Ligeti (the radiant Atmospheres that shivered through Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Brahms and  and more at First Congregational Church last month. It was a treat to see long time Oregon Bach Festival organist Boris Kleiner at the portative organ. Although OBF music director Helmuth Rilling is also from Stuttgart, the Kammerchor’s transparent, lithe sound is a world away. It seemed that every note was clear, and perfectly judged and sung — one of the finest Portland concerts of the year.

More beautiful Baroque sounds echoed through First Baptist Church in Portland Baroque Orchestra’s March concert, which featured clarinetist Eric Hoeprich and oboist Gonzalo Ruiz. The sparkling music, by Albinoni, Telemann, Fasch and more, didn’t aspire to Bach’s profundity, but it was elegantly played, with PBO’s usual sense of fun, good cheer and enthusiasm, to which the audience responded in kind.

Frieder Bernius led the Stuttgart Chamber Choir

Sounds from more recent eras electrified Portland stages last week. Friends of Chamber Music’s Pacifica Quartet concert again showed that the future of the form is in good shape. The young foursome’s expressive, nuanced performances of music of Myaskovsky, Dvorak and Beethoven bristled with energy yet never sacrificed precision. FOCM is really on a roll this year, hosting a number of young ensembles who bring a refreshing verve and immense skill to their interpretations.

The locals certainly held their own in 45th Parallel’s concert at the Old Church. Violinist Greg Ewer honored Chamber Music Northwest founder Sergiu Luca with one of his signature pieces, a Christian Sinding sonata that seemed to veer from Baroque to Schumann and back, while his and pianist Cary Lewis’s performance of William Bolcom’s bluesy, beauteous violin sonata has to be one of the year’s most exciting chamber music moments. After a fine run through Bolcom’s Ghost Rag, what Ewer called “the fun part” began, with Portland’s Swing Papillon celebrating Luca favorite Joe Venuti with hot jazz versions of Ellington, Gershwin and other swing era classics. Ewer, who also plays in a bluegrass band, even joined them for a more than credible version of Django Rheinhardt’s Swing 48.

Swing Papillon joined 45th Parallel at the Old Church

The busy 45th Parallel musicians are back onstage this weekend in one of the most anticipated shows of the year, Theresa Koons’s original musical drama Promise, based on the life of French sculptor Camille Claudel, which opens this weekend at Oregon City’s Ainsworth House and comes to Portland’s Scottish Rite theater next week. The show has evolved through different incarnations over the past decade. The music sometimes leans toward opera, sometimes toward musical theater, sometimes neither, and the story explores the challenges many female artists faced as recently as a century ago. Claudel , a protege and lover of Rodin, destroyed many of her own creations before being confined to a mental institution for the last half of her life.

There’s some terrific 20th century music at Eugene’s Hult Center — but it’s not from the Eugene Symphony. On Friday and Sunday, Eugene Ballet’s all-Stravinsky program includes live string orchestra conducted by former Portland Opera music director Robert Ashens, performing the greatest 20th century composer’s Apollo, with contemporary choreography by New York’s Melissa Bobick. Ashens and three other pianists, along with percussionists and the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, will accompany the dancers in another 20th century classic that’s heard less often than it should be, Stravinsky’s The Wedding, choreographed by EB’s longtime artistic director Toni Pimble. (Portland’s Resonance Ensemble performed this striking music at Lewis & Clark College last year.) Unfortunately, there’s no live orchestra in the final piece on EB’s superb program, Pimble’s version of that all-time musical game changer The Rite of Spring (which requires a large and expensive orchestra), which influenced music and dance more than maybe another single work,  but you can hear the Oregon Symphony play the music live next month.

Speaking of the OSO, their recommended concerts this weekend feature a relatively modern program, including Joaquin Rodrigo’s delightfully danceable 1958 Fantasy for a Gentleman (with the renowned guitarist Sharon Isbin as soloist), a 1971 piece by one of today’s most respected composers, Sofia Gubaidulina, and music by Ravel and Mussorgsky.

Back in Eugene, at United Lutheran Church, Byrdsong Renaissance Consort joins Gamelan Sari Pandhawa in a musical re-creation inspired by a historic encounter between two of the planet’s greatest musical traditions: the 1580 landing of Sir Francis Drake’s vessel The Golden Hind on the Indonesian island of Java, which resulted in a Javanese percussion ensemble and English viol quartet showing each other their musical stuff. And on Monday, Chamber Music Amici plays music of Piazzolla, Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. Also that night, Eugene’s WOW Hall hosts the Portland Cello Project’s album release concert, featuring hip hop covers from their groovy new album Homage, with help from Portland popsters Alialujah Choir.

Portlanders can experience PCP’s premiere party this weekend at Doug Fir Friday and twice Saturday, first at an all ages 5 pm show, and then at 9. The show will likely include music by Osvaldo Golijov and other classical composers as well as hip hopers Kanye West, Jay-Z and more.

Speaking of unlikely mashups, on Friday, Opera Theater Oregon’s series that sets old silent films to improvised music drawn from operas resumes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Meets Dr. Atomic. That means that tenor Daniel Buchanan, pianist Douglas Schneider, percussionist Ian Kerr and flutist Jade Weide will draw on music from John Adams’s 2006 opera (which certainly contains some powerful sequences, even if the premiere in San Francisco left me cool, more because of dramatic than musical lapses) and somehow spontaneously spawn a new score for the 1920 Lionel Barrymore film. You can raise a mug in their honor, because it’s at Portland’s Mission Theater, so beer and other imbibables will be available.

Also Friday, Patrick McDonough’s new vocal group, The Ensemble, sings British music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Howell’s and more at downtown Portland’s St. James Lutheran Church. The transplant from the nation’s choral hotbed, Minneapolis-St. Paul, chooses mid-sized works that are often neglected because they require forces too small for large choir and too large for the usual vocal ensembles. Voice fans can also check out the Portland choir Satori singing classic pop and other sounds at The Old Church Saturday, and early music soprano Melanie Downie Robinson  singing more Baroque music at St. Stephen’s Episcopal church around the corner on Sunday afternoon; she’ll also join other top singers in a fundraiser for the valuable Portland Vocal Consort Saturday night at Portland’s First Unitarian Church. It all makes a fine interlude of ancient sounds, but don’t worry: the new music returns with a fury next weekend.

Finally, we were saddened to hear of the April 2 passing of violinist Timoteus Racz, the Hungarian-born co-founder and artistic director of Oregon Chamber Players and Junior Symphony of Vancouver. OCP ‘s May 5 concert will be dedicated to his memory and feature two of his compositions.

Timoteus Racz at his violin shop and studio

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