Weekend MusicWatch: the mods of March

March comes in like a lion — one hungry for new music.


Two of these three composers will have music on Third Angle's program this weekend. Photo: Peter Serling

Two of these three composers will have music on Third Angle’s program this weekend. Photo: Peter Serling

The annual effusion of 20th- and 21st-century sounds that inundates Portland this month doesn’t commence for a week. Yet March is here, and Oregon is already awash in contemporary classical music sounds, demonstrating, like last March (which featured half a dozen modern but non-MMM shows, including a 21st century Philip Glass opera), that Oregon’s monthly new music bounty is just too rich to be confined to a single festival — or even a single city.

The major new music concert on tap this weekend is Third Angle New Music Ensemble‘s “When Michael Meets Julia,” completing the group’s (first?) survey of the music of Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe (this weekend) and David Lang (two seasons ago). The program includes a film, “Light is Calling,” by one-time Reedie and avant-film legend Bill Morrison (who concocted a similar masterpiece together with their celebrated “Decasia”), and music for combinations ranging from bagpipes to basses and more. As before, the composers themselves are here for the fun, speaking to classes at PSU, chipping in at rehearsals, and in general re-connecting Portland to country’s single most important single source of postclassical music.

Begun as an upstart music festival for young — and not so young, like Steve Reich — composers whose music too often wasn’t allowed in the hallowed halls of classical music, BOAC is many things: an annual festival, a summer festival and training ground for the next generation of composers, an ensemble, and DIY a state of mind similar to what seems to be emerging in Oregon these days.

Julia Wolfe Composer Portrait Preview from Miller Theatre on Vimeo.

Speaking of the next generation, the invasion of new music opens its southern front with still another recurring showcase: the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival opened earlier this week, and continues Friday with the faculty ensemble Beta Collide (a faculty duo comprising the incomparable flutist and trumpeter Molly Barth and Brian McWhorter) and turn Ensemble, one of the UO’s student new music ensembles. Their free concert at the campus’s intimate Collier House features student works and more music by moderns. The festival continues with electronic music (Future Music Oregon) Saturday, and vocal music on Sunday with another student ensemble, Sospiro, with the festival’s guest star, rising young singer Esteli Gomez. She returns to Beall on Monday, March 4, with still another UO new music group, Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, for a multimedia concert of student works, including one commissioned by Crater Lake National Park that incorporates field recordings made there, and other nature-evoking sounds by the great Alaska composer John Luther Adams, and works by another Northwest composer, Emily Doolittle, and France’s Tristan Murail. Founded 20 years ago by UO composition prof Robert Kyr, Music Today is a major generator of Oregon-grown music and a state treasure.

A Beowulf like no one's ever seen or heard in Eugene.

A Beowulf like no one’s ever seen or heard in Eugene.

But it’s not the only locus of new sounds in the area this weekend. On Sunday afternoon at west Eugene’s Unitarian Universalist Church, Gamelan Sari Pandhawa premiers UO alum Ken Jennings’ new version of “Beowulf.” A debut new musical setting of that proto-myth by an Oregon composer is news enough, but Jennings, who has directed the Indonesian percussion ensemble since its inception in the mid-1990s, also narrates this concert retelling of the Northern European cultural touchstone in a combination of modern and Old English — while at the same time manipulating a cast of hand carved puppets whose shadow images will be projected on a screen, in the ancient Indonesian wayang kulit tradition. Oh, and did I mention that his original music is written for Javanese gamelan? This is an extraordinarily ambitious performance of homegrown Oregon music — an ancient European tale with a score by an American composer for Javanese instruments and puppets. Maybe we should add “multicultural” to the three Ms of March.

Finally, the next day, March 4, just across the river in Springfield, Chamber Music Amici, that estimable group of current and former UO faculty members, will unveil yet another Oregon premiere: the “Amici Quartet” written by Jennings’s teacher, UO composition prof emeritus Hal Owen. They’ll also play chamber gems by Beethoven and Mozart. This is a terrific weekend for new music in the Eugene area. Fans of older sounds there can hear the Eugene Concert Choir and Oregon Mozart Players combine in Bruckner’s massive e minor Mass and works by Brahms, Schubert and more, at the Hult Center.

Estelí Gomez sings in Portland March 2 and Eugene March 4

Estelí Gomez sings in Portland March 2 and Eugene March 4

Back in Portland, Sospiro will perform their Eugene show Saturday in southeast Portland at Bamboo Grove salon — another item that’s part of March’s larger new music frame, and a welcome northern incursion by Eugene’s roiling young new music scene. That’s one of no fewer than three major concerts featuring significant helpings of contemporary music. On Saturday (at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel) and Sunday (at Yale Union), the superb singers of Resonance Ensemble kicks off the Shostakovich segment of this month’s modernist madness, singing stirring works by the great 20th century Russian composer and his equally (at least) accomplished compatriot and contemporary, Sergei Prokofiev. For all their musical power, these works are seldom heard today because they were dragooned into service as propaganda vehicles for the Soviet state. (Of course, musical works have a long tradition of serving such patrons, including most of the commonly heard religious works by Renaissance and Baroque composers commissioned by European church-states.) The utterly fascinating program, one of the most intriguing of the year, also features rebellious works by great composers who wrote in Stalinism’s shadow: Arvo Part, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Veljo Tormis.

Later on Sunday, northwest Portland’s Trinity Cathedral hosts still another important concert featuring contemporary sounds from jazz to folk to pop to classical. It’s the second annual version of “Be Gone, Dull Care,” the show that replaced Trinity’s annual holiday concert, again staged by impresario/singer Stephen Marc Beaudoin so as to provide a seamless, intermission-less, and intimate musical experience that employs the whole cathedral space. Four of America’s finest classical composers — contemporaries Seattle-born Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom and Philip Glass plus daisy-pushers Charles Ives and Samuel Barber — are on the program, which features performances by FearNoMusic, Portland Cello Project, the delicate Portland indie-folk-popper Laura Gibson, poet Samiya Bashir, Pacific Youth Choir, Quadraphonnes sax quartet and others so diverse that only the resourceful Beaudoin could have connected all the dots. The goal is to drive the cold winter blues away and help others in need — proceeds benefit homeless and hungry people.

Another American Pulitzer winner, William Bergsma, gets a rare revival Saturday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when Portland Youth Philharmonic performs his lively “Chameleon Variations” along with Mendelssohn’s ever-popular Violin Concerto (featuring concerto competition winner Rachel Graves) and Tchaikovsky’s last symphony. And you can hear still more Russian music performed by young Portlanders on Sunday when the Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays more Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky (overtures) and another relative rarity, the third symphony of midcentury Russian composer Boris Kozhevnikov, heard most often in US military band arrangements. MYS’s concerto competition winner, Caitlin Huang, takes the solo spotlight in the third movement of Beethoven’s third piano concerto. PYP conductor David Hattner and the busy Pacific Youth Choir are on stage again Sunday afternoon in the Oregon Symphony’s kids concert, but it’s sold out.

There’s sill more more Shostakovich onstage Tuesday at PSU’s Lincoln Hall, when the school’s fine Florestan Trio, celebrating its 30th anniversary season, plays his powerful Piano Trio #2 and music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. More of those latter two composers are on the program, plus Elgar and more, in the Starlight Symphony’s Sunday performance in Tualatin. And don’t forget renowned pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin’s Sunday recital at Portland’s Newmark Theater.

Comments are closed.