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Of course, 2013 will work just as well...

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Dear ArtsWatch Readers! We only have a few hours left in tax year 2012!

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Thank you for considering us! We’ll see you around in 2013…

My last considerations of 2012

A pass through 2012: great theater and dance, the arts tax, saving the church, Mark Rothko, more!

Kidd Pivot's "Dark Matters"/Christopher Duggan

Kidd Pivot’s “Dark Matters”/Christopher Duggan

This year was SO eventful that I doubt these will be my “last considerations” on its developments. We’ll be mulling them over for a long time, I bet. If pressed, I’d say that the list of the year’s biggest arts stories had to include the passage of the arts tax, the hiring of Dámaso Rodriquez at ART and Namita Wiggers at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the resignations of Elaine Calder from the Oregon Symphony, Christopher Stowell from Oregon Ballet Theatre and Linda Magee from Chamber Music Northwest, and the continuing assertion of Portland artists, writers and musicians into the national conversation.

I myself didn’t write about all of those things, but they were all important, and ArtsWatch has dealt with them in one way or another.

So what DID I write about this year? What was my path through this particular rotation of the planet around its star? Well, I did a little surveying and culling, and I came up with a few milestones, news and commentary, that marked my way and maybe yours as well.

It was an election year, so a fair number concerned the election and the arts tax. Even though ArtsWatch isn’t an explicitly political project, we are a CULTURAL project, and that inevitably includes politics. I wrote about Portland Playhouse’s expensive little dance with the city bureaucracy, too—an excellent example of how arts, community and politics intersect.

Most of the rest of the stories concern specific concerts, productions and exhibitions, my attempt to understand them and connect them to other events and ideas in our community. I suppose even these could be considered “political,” but I choose to think of them as cultural.

As I went through these stories, I realized I’d almost completely forgotten a few of them—and I WROTE them. So, maybe our primary purpose here is simply to jog our memories and perhaps catch up a bit. The order is roughly chronological, oldest to most recent.

Continues…

2012 in Portland arts: a little grit, a little glory

Hard times, hard times, come again no more – but let's celebrate the good stuff, too

A "Midsummer" fantasy at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel.

A “Midsummer” fantasy at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel.

It’s a worn-out old year, good and ready to be retired, and as December closes it’s easy to get stuck in the memory of its low points: the interminable political foolishness, the hurricanes and floods, the mass murders by disturbed young men packing assault weapons, the wars and rumors of wars, the continuing economic rut, a baby Snooki. Miss 2012? Surely you jest!

But as 2013 pokes its infant head around the corner, it’s also good to remember that Old Man 2012 has had his good and vibrant moments, too. Any year with a gone-viral marriage proposal by a clever Portland theater dude and the conventional-wisdom-defying landslide approval of an arts and arts education tax deserves at least a congratulatory sendoff to that old retirement home in the sky. (Props, too, to Danny Bruno and all those other local performers acting their monstrous hearts out on ABC’s increasingly entertaining “Grimm.”)

So here’s a look back, not necessarily at the best Portland arts stories of 2012 – no single person could possibly have gotten to enough events in the city to make a plausible stab at a list like that – but simply at a large handful of stories that have stuck in my mind. Feel free to add your own, or argue with mine, in the comments below. Some, like the passing of the arts tax despite a drumbeat of disapproval from the mainstream press, are big. I find that a lot of the year’s interesting stories are little: I spent a fair amount of time poking around the byways and cul-de-sacs of Portland culture in 2012, and discovered a lot of interesting things growing in unlikely places. Blessed be the small, for that is where ideas percolate.

NW Dance Project's Nieto and Parson; Samantha Campbell in background. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project’s Nieto and Parson; Samantha Campbell in background. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

DANCE

It was a halcyon year for the small and feisty Northwest Dance Project, from its London performance at the Olympics arts festival to snagging its second Princess Grace Award in three years: Franco Nieto joined 2010 winner Andrea Parson on the exclusive list of grant winners. The company, which specializes in premiering new dances, looked good onstage in Portland, too, especially in October’s “Mother Tongue,” a reunion with its Olympics choreographer Ihsan Rustem. Not everything this adventurous company does works: that’s the nature of taking chances. But a good deal does.

The year’s biggest and dreariest dance news was the fracturing of the peace at Oregon Ballet Theatre, where artistic director Christopher Stowell announced in late November that he was resigning effective at the end of the year. His abrupt departure very likely will lead to a complete reconfiguration of a company that he had methodically built in his nine-year run into a nationally noted neoclassical troupe. Stowell re-created OBT largely in his own image, gathering dancers from around the world who came to work with him, and many probably will move on now that he’s gone. What’s to come is a great unknown, although it’s a reassuring sign that former OBT dancer Anne Mueller, who’s as sharp as they come although inexperienced in running a company, has agreed to be interim artistic director. There are rumblings of tightened budgets and a clash of priorities between Stowell and his board, and while board leaders insist they were shocked by Stowell’s departure, some insiders hint that he didn’t leave without a nudge. If the big problem is raising donations, this upheaval isn’t going to help. This story will continue to unfold in 2013.

In other ways, from the big (White Bird, including visits from Trisha Brown and Goteborg Ballet) to the small (Conduit and others), it’s been a good year for dance. BodyVox has prospered both as a producing company (including, in May, “The Cutting Room,” its witty paean to the movies) and a space for others, from the closely related Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble to independent gatherings of young talent produced by Eowyn Emerald Barrett and others. It’s a good space, and it’s being used well and often. Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk were the dancers there in Josie Moseley’s intensely moving “Flying Over Emptiness,” a tribute to fellow choreographer Mary Oslund, with gorgeous and quietly emotion-wracking video by Janet McIntyre: a signal work and a brilliant collaboration. At Imago, another veteran Portland choreographer with a very different aesthetic, Linda Austin, created another moving tribute dance, “A Head of Time,” that, while it carried Austin’s familiar fractured humor and dream-sense, was also a memorial to her sister and nephew, both of whom died before their time. Among other dances that left their mark on my memory: Anjali School of Dance’s southern Indian “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Newmark; OBT’s “Giselle” at the Keller; Jim McGinn and TopShakeDance’s “Jamb” at Conduit; Gregg Bielemeier’s comic “I Chipped My tOOth on an Anchovy” and Meshi Chavez’s butoh-inspired “Une fleuer pour mon amour” – both at Conduit, as was “Gather,” the fetching collaboration by choreographer Tere Mathern and musician Tim DuRoche.

A final note: Looking at the city’s renaissance of dance, it’s remarkable how much of it is linked in one way or another to Oregon Ballet Theatre: former OBT dancers, current dancers such as Candace Bouchard freelancing and producing away from the mother ship, even dancers such as Bielemeier reacting against the OBT aesthetic. To me, that means that OBT’s current soap opera spreads far beyond its own stage. The whole city has a stake in how its premiere ballet company sorts out its problems.

Henk Pander, "The First Night," watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, 1995.

Henk Pander, “The First Night,” watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, 1995.

ART

Nationally, the big art news out of Oregon in 2012 may well have been the autumn equinox dedication of Rick Bartow’s “We Were Always Here,” a pair of towering pole carvings, outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Bartow, of Wiyot and Yurok as well as European ancestry, lives in South Beach, near Newport on the Oregon Coast, and he has an international reputation as an artist of transformational works drawing on Native American themes. The National Mall piece may not be the most lucrative work he’s done, but it’s a fitting recognition of a remarkable career, and it’s also very much an Oregon sort of artwork: guided by a single artistic spirit, built by many hands.

Internationally, Henk Pander may be Portland’s best-known visual artist. When the Rijksmuseum reopens in Amsterdam next spring after 10 years of renovation, its galleries will contain several works by Pander, a native Netherlander who’s lived in Portland since the 1960s. One of the year’s best shows here was “Transport,” featuring Pander and Esther Podemski, at the Oregon Jewish Museum. Pander’s large paintings and drawings reached back to his childhood memories of living in Haarlem during World War II, during the time of air raids and starvation and Nazi occupation. It was a haunting show, and, because Pander is such an expert draughtsman in the long Dutch tradition, beautifully executed. The images seemed deeply true, and important.

A hundred-odd miles east of town in the Columbia Gorge, the Maryhill Museum of Art opened its season in March with a long-needed new wing – built low to the ground so as not to fight visually with the castle-like, cast concrete historical main structure – that gives this oddly beguiling museum some breathing room. We surely haven’t seen the best of what it has to offer yet: like a new car, it’s barely been out for a test drive. But the new Mary & Bruce Stevenson Wing, built on a bargain budget of less than $10 million, nicely positions the museum for a future that will surely be more vibrant as the Gorge grows. The trick now for the museum is to keep its historic charm as it reaches out to a more sophisticated potential audience.

The development of a regional style (a provisional task at best, considering the free flow of travel and information in the modern world) is less a matter of shared technical gestures than of a shared way of thinking about the world, no matter how individual a specific artist’s images might be. So in September, when I saw painter Matthew Dennison’s show “A Current History of Encroachment” at Froelick Gallery, it got me thinking of the book party I went to in January at Publication Studio for the release of Melody Owen’s “Looking Glass Book.” These are not artists who, on first blush, you’d lump together. Owen tends toward collage and Lewis Carroll. Dennison paints a kind of simplified hyperrealism. But both shows, and to an extent the artists’ larger work as well, are about loss – and not just emotional or cultural, but biological: the imperilment of species. In the Pacific Northwest, where we still believe that humans and the rest of nature ought to be able to coexist, that strikes me as a regional theme. That connection to the land and the flora and fauna that inhabit it was also clearly evident in the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s excellent retrospective on the work of groundbreaking Pendleton ceramic artist Betty Feves.

I saw Dennison’s exhibit after taking in Theatre Now’s witty production of Yasmina Reza’s tart comedy “Art” at Gallery 903. Intrigued by a play about art in an art gallery, and by the fact that Reza gave pretty much everyone’s perspective on the blank-white painting at the core of the play except the artist’s, I spent the next couple of days going to artists’ talks in the town’s galleries, hitting conversations with Dennison, Katherine Ace, Sara Siestreem, Sally Cleveland, and Elise Wagner. A novel thought: why not listen to what the artists, themselves, think about their work? Such gallery chats are common, and almost always free, and illuminating. Touring an exhibition with a good curator can be an eye-opening experience, too, and I was lucky enough to see “Body Beautiful,” the Portland Art Museum’s current show of classical Greek and Roman art from the British Museum, in the company of British Museum curator Ian Jenkins, who gleefully linked the exhibition pieces to a web of social, sexual, historical and mythological thought. In a high-tech culture, this ancient way of viewing things makes even more sense: everything’s connected; just find the connecting points.

 

"Seven Guitars," Artists Rep: A city full of August Wilson. Photo: Owen Carey

“Seven Guitars,” Artists Rep: A city full of August Wilson. Photo: Owen Carey

THEATER

While Oregon Ballet Theatre reels from the aftermath of a messy leadership divorce, two theater companies – Profile Theatre and Artists Repertory Theatre – did it right. Profile, which specializes in the works of a single playwright each season, pulled off a smooth transition from founding artistic director Jane Unger, who retired, to new leader Adriana Baer. The move signaled both a stability of purpose and an embracing of fresh energy. Similarly, Artists Rep underwent a long and open process of finding a replacement for retiring artistic director Allen Nause, and late in the year announced the appointment of Los Angeles director Damaso Rodriguez, who has leadership background at Furious Theatre Company and the Pasadena Playhouse. As with Baer, we haven’t seen yet where he’ll take the company. But his background suggests a commitment to the kind of intimate theater that’s been Artists Rep’s trademark, and he comes with good national connections that could help the company broaden its talent net. In both cases, the transitions were handled with reassuring calm and competence.

Both companies also scored well onstage in 2012 – Profile with the likes of Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo” and Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold … and the boys”; Artists Rep with a solid lineup including a wonderfully sweet version of Aaron Posner’s “And So It Goes,” an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut stories, and “Seven Guitars,” one link in one of the city’s best cultural stories of the year: its revival of several plays by the great August Wilson, a mini-festival that also includes the just-ending production of “King Hedley II” at Portland Playhouse. Artists Rep was also home to a small and ill-attended but vibrant selection of short pieces by major American writers called “The Gay Marriage Plays,” which were given sharp staged readings by a crackerjack cast. It’s the sort of inventive side project that theater companies should be doing in response to significant social moments in the culture, and although it’s too bad it didn’t find much of an audience, it was well worth doing and seeing.

The city’s biggest theater company, Portland Center Stage, scored with big shows including “Sweeney Todd” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and also with smaller ones such as Frank Higgins’ “Black Pearl Sings!,” a two-hander with terrific performances by Chavez Ravine and Lena Kaminsky. And as usual, a lot of the interesting action also went down in littler spaces, from the Portland Actors Conservatory and its rousing revival of Romulus Linney’s “Holy Ghosts” to Jacqueline Woodson’s adaptation of her novel “Locomotion” for Oregon Children’s Theatre. Other good small shows in small spaces: a beach-blanket “Much Ado About Nothing” and a pair of hard-boiled thrillers (“The Detective’s Wife” and “Steady Rain”) at Shoebox Theatre; a sweet small-scaled “Avenue Q” at Triangle Productions, which is settling in nicely to its new digs on Northeast Sandy Boulevard that also provided the space for Staged!’s energetic teen musical “13”; a crisp and bristling adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” for Cerimon House, the intriguing producing company and cultural center being developed by Randall Stuart and friends in the Alberta District. At the east side’s little Hipbone Studios, Portland Story Theatre continued its innovative offerings of real stories by real people, and co-director Lawrence Howard, early in the year, revived his gripping tale of harrowing exploration, “Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare,” a performance he later took to New York as part of the United Solo Festival. Outdoor theater had its charms, especially with offbeat takes on the Bard, from Bag & Baggage’s “Kabuki Titus” (which was lifted by a floating, silent movie-like performance by Anne Mueller, the dancer who at the end of the year stepped in to lead the troubled Oregon Ballet Theatre) and Original Practice Shakespeare’s low-key, rambling and witty “Much Adoe About Nothing” (the company also practices original spelling). And way up in the city’s north stretches, on an industrial dead end beside some railroad tracks, a bare-bones space called The Headwaters welcomed any number of intriguing experiments, from veteran actor Eric Hull’s one-man show of dance and art and storytelling, to Miriam Feder’s memory-play “Ephemory” about mothers and daughters and the escape from Nazi Europe, to the newest work by the innovative dance troupe Wobbly, one of 2012’s shows that I most regret missing.

Northwest Portland’s CoHo Theatre is one of my favorite small spaces in town, and it had a good year, with a revival of Portland writer Steve Patterson’s “The Centering,” a witty adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Hard Times,” and a funny and moving production of Annie Baker’s “Body Awareness.” But late in the year it canceled Susannah Mars’ always popular holiday show because of money troubles. Here’s hoping for better times in 2013. “International Falls,” with Isaac Lamb and Laura Faye Smith, is scheduled to have the space back and rolling in late January.

The Emerson Quartet takes a bow last week at Chamber Music Northwest. From left: Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, David Finckel, Lawrence Dutton. Photo: Jim Leisy

Emerson Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Jim Leisy

MUSIC

In 2012, Classical Millennium bit the dust, and if you’re a follower of classical music that’s about as big a bummer as a year can bring. Market forces finally brought this curiously sprawling yet wonderfully curated and delightfully staffed CD store down. Sure, you can order your classical recordings on the Internet, and a much-scaled-back selection of classical and opera recordings has been folded into CM’s daddy company, Music Millennium. But this was an especially congenial gathering spot, and its loss, while understandable, is also painful. It feels like a piece of Portland has broken off and crumbled into dust.

Other cutbacks: The Oregon Symphony canceled its scheduled return to Carnegie Hall and lost its bright administrative leader, Elaine Calder, who returned to the Shaw Festival in Ontario after six tough years of dealing smartly with economic realities. On a brighter note, the symphony released a new CD on the PentaTone label, “This England,” with works by Elgar, Britten, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Portland Opera, amid intermittent complaints that it was hunkering down with the warhorses, nevertheless came through solidly on stage with the likes of Glass’s “Galileo” and Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” which featured a particularly lovely title  performance by soprano Kelly Kaduce. The summer festival Chamber Music Northwest also lived with criticisms over safe programming, and indeed, the esteemed Emerson Quartet delivered what seemed to my ears an accomplished and accurate but intensely airless performance of Mozart and Thomas Ades before getting down and dirty with Beethoven’s flabbergasting, deeply modern-sounding String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 30, concluding with its often dropped Grosse Fugue, Op. 133. Forget the numbers, and forget the Emerson’s brittle reserve on what is usually a relaxed and friendly stage. This was about as good an argument as you’ll get for the validity of digging deeply into the warhorses and rediscovering what is fresh and beautiful about them.

For me, though, the concert of the year came December 14, on the evening of the day that Adam Lanza, after shooting and killing his mother at her home, shot and killed twenty children and six adults, and finally himself, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I believe that Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performance with the choir Cappella Romana of Handel’s complete “Messiah” would have been one of my favorites under any circumstance. I love the sound of the baroque-style instruments – the soft whoosh-whoosh of bows over strings, the quiet clatter of the harpsichord, the warm bounce of reverberating wood. The musicians are first-class, and the auditorium space – in downtown’s First Baptist Church – is a gorgeous soaring curve that cups the audience in its hands. But on this particular day the power of great art to provide a balm was almost overwhelming, and although no concert can solve the deep cultural problems that Newtown represents, great art can recenter us and keep us going after we’ve been knocked for a loop. The first words sung: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” A year of terrible things had great things, too. Let’s at least give Old Man 2012 that.

 

Oregon Renaissance Band

Oregon Renaissance Band

Unlike even death, classical music, it seems, never takes a holiday. There are only a couple of major classical concerts this weekend, but they’re both recommended.

Oregon Renaissance Band, Friday and Saturday, Community Music Center, Portland, and Sunday, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Gresham: We’re lucky to hear plenty of Baroque music in Oregon, but Renaissance sounds — especially instrumental varieties — are rarer, in part because many of the instruments are obsolete. Portland’s Phil and Gayle Neuman solve that problem by making their own replicas of archaic axes like the tartold, rackett, sackbutt, and using early versions of violins, guitar, recorder and others. They’ll play and sing music by William Byrd, Michael Praetorius and other Renaissance composers European and Latin American, known and unknown.

The Ensemble, Saturday, Grace Memorial Episcopal Church, Portland: After arriving in Portland from the choral hotbed of St. Paul a year or so ago, bass singer Patrick McDonough (a veteran of the Dale Warland Singers and other top vocal groups) promptly put together a mid-sized, all-star aggregation comprising some of the cream of the cream of Portland singers skimmed from the city’s finest choirs (Cappella Romana, Cantores in Ecclesia, and others) to sing works that are less often performed than they should be because they were composed for groups smaller than the usual big choirs. They’ll sing two 20th century Christmas classics: Poulenc’s “Four Christmas Motets,” and Britten’s “Hymn to the Virgin,” plus works by one of today’s leading choral composers, Stephen Paulus and more.

Rebecca Kilgore and Randy Porter, Monday, The Old Church, Portland: This is a jazz show — specifically, standards from the 1930s and ’40s — but it benefits Friends of Chamber Music, one of Oregon’s most valuable classical presenting organizations. And besides, when the singer and pianist are among the Northwest’s most deservedly venerated, who cares what pigeonhole they occupy? It’s a musically magnificent way to spend New Year’s Eve.

Of course you didn’t mean to, but the holidays can be hectic, so many cards to send, gifts to give. Fortunately, there’s still time to give  that music lover a gift (via actual CD or downloadable file) of homegrown music by Oregon musicians — including some holiday sounds, though not always the most conventional.

dropintheocean“A Drop in the Ocean,” Portland State University Chamber Choir:  Anyone chancing upon this music without knowing who’s singing would be shocked to discover that it’s a college choir. This sometimes luminous new CD provides tangible proof that director Ethan Sperry has restored the PSU to its former ranks among the nation’s finest collegiate choirs. Recorded in the (occasionally overly) reverberant acoustics of Portland’s First United Methodist Church and St. Stephens Catholic Church, the disc radiates a plush, reverent sound, from the striking opening “O Salutaris Hostia” and title track by contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds through the closing Haitian voodoo songs that regularly spice the choirs often thrilling live performances. The disc would have benefited from another of those upbeat numbers to break up the rich but poky sequence of tracks — Thomas Dorsey’s gospel classic “Precious Lord” and works by Rachmaninoff, Verdi and Georgy Sviridov’s “Having Witnessed a Wondrous Birth,” which nearly sends the album into a stall before it picks up with Sperry’s clever arrangement of the inevitable “Hallelujah” (which like every cover I’ve heard loses some of Leonard Cohen’s original slyness amid the earnestness) and a strong closing stretch run.

Now_make_we-joye-cover_Image
“Now make we joye: Renaissance Christmas and other Celebratory Music,” Ensemble De Organographia, Oregon Renaissance Band: Phil and Gayle Neuman not only study Renaissance music, teach the other members of their bands to play it in the manner it was intended by its creators, and play many of the archaic instruments themselves — but they also make their own replicas of those original curtals, sackbutts, douçaines, racketts, ayacachtlis, tartolds, cornamusens, krummhorns (quack!), schreierpfeifes, violas da braccio, cants, shawms, and more. The album also boasts more familiar sounds of violin, guitar, recorders, bagpipes and Gayle Neuman’s affectingly and appropriately artless voice. And if you want to see as well as hear those colorful noisemakers, you can check out their CD release concerts Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Community Music Center or Sunday at Gresham’s St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, which will likely contain much of the music on this disc, by Europeans such as Michael Praetorius, William Byrd, and even composers from Latin America.

This_England

“This England,” Oregon Symphony:

After its triumph with last year’s program of music by British composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and American John Adams, the OSO goes all-English. Billed as a “super audio CD” by Pentatone Classics, it still struggles with the acoustic limitations of the recording venue, Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and even if these live recordings (made in live concerts there in February and May of this year) can’t quite match the power I experienced hearing these recordings in person, they achieve admirable depth and clarity that bring out unexpected elements in both major 20th century English compositions. Unlike last year’s rendition of Vaughan Williams’s previous, knottier symphony, this excellent new recording can’t surprise as many listeners who are doubtless more familiar with the more popular 1943 Symphony #5. But the OSO’s taut performance doesn’t wallow in superficial pastoral pleasures, finding depths that some other performances miss. Their even fiercer performance of Benjamin Britten’s popular “Sea Interludes” from his great opera “Peter Grimes” fully captures its drama. Both major works and the engaging opener, “Cockaigne,” Edward Elgar’s postcard to London circa the English equivalent of the Belle Époque, demonstrate the tightly wound expressiveness and sharp ensemble that music director Carlos Kalmar and the current crew (notably here the brass section) have developed in recent years, and this recording can proudly stand alongside other top versions by the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra. But the fact that these last-century works have been much recorded by other major orchestras raises another question: how about an album from our taxpayer-supported orchestra called “This Oregon”?

PSGBy Request … Girlchoir Favorites,” Portland Symphonic Girlchoir: These selected live performances (accompanied by pianists Kay Doyle and Tamara Still) from concerts in 2008-10 covers a remarkable range of territory, from spirituals to contemporary choral works to Duke Ellington tunes — a nobly ambitious effort in which the girls catch the bluesy feeling but not the swing; we’re so spoiled by the flexible phrasing of some of the greatest solo singers in this repertoire that square choral performances can come off a little stiff — and more. Even the very young choristers turn in surprisingly affecting performances in a disk that demonstrates the value of one of Oregon’s most beloved institutions for young musicians.

singnswingsmall-148x148“Sing & Swing the Season,” Portland Gay Men’s Chorus: The 130-voice choir sings 18 carols and Hanukkah songs ranging from Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” to Morten Lauridsen’s shimmering “O Magnum Mysterium.” The chorus sounds focused and engaged for such a large, non-professional group, and a small band lends lively accompaniment. Artistic director Bob Mensel builds the sound to impressive heights in Franz Biebl’s famous “Ave Maria,” even if he makes the unusual decision to take different tempos for different verses. A party breaks out for “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells” and the final track, “The Merriest.”

In Mulieribus sings music from Bohemia Friday.

In Mulieribus sings music from Bohemia Friday.

What with last weekend’s reprise airing of this year’s Portland performance of public radio’s “From the Top,” Oregon classical music is rocking the airwaves and the intertubes. If you’re traveling or just couldn’t make it to Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra’s brilliant performances of Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” last weekend, around Oregon this season, you can hear a recording on Portland’s all-classical radio station, KQAC, Sunday at 6 pm over the air and streamed online. You can also hear Cappella Romana on this week’s episode of public radio’s wonderful weekly early music show, Harmonia, which runs Sundays on KQAC and Thursdays on Eugene’s KWAX and is available online. Music lovers who crave a last dose of live classical music this year have some splendid choices in the Portland area.

“Messiah,” Portland Chamber Orchestra, Oregon Chorale, Friday, St. Henry Catholic Church, Gresham, Sunday, St. Matthew Catholic Church, Hillsboro: The Hillsboro Community Youth Choir joins PCO and the Chorale for Friday’s performance of Handel’s choral-orchestral classic; Sunday’s concert at Lewis & Clark College is, alas, sold out.

“In Natali domni: Christmas in Bohemia,” In Mulieribus, Friday, St. Philip Neri Catholic Church: Sure, Portland thinks of itself as a boho paradise — but the original Bohemians weren’t above a little holiday celebration, as anyone who heard the Hilliard Ensemble’s recent recordings of Renaissance music discovered in a Prague monastery, the Codex Speciálník, knows. The concert also features music associated with Christmas by the great medieval composers Dufay and Perotin (his whirling classic “Viderunt Omnes”).

“Comfort and Joy,” Oregon Symphony, Pacific Youth Choir, Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall: Bring the kiddos to hear the classics — excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” “Messiah,” uh, “Home Alone,” and more.

“Christmas with Johnny Mathis,” Oregon Symphony, Saturday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall: A crooner’s Christmas!

Bach Cantata Choir, Friday, Rose City Park Presbyterian Church: Two of J.S. Bach’s seasonal classics — “Magnificat “and cantatas from his “Christmas Oratorio” — top the program.

Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, Saturday, Zion Lutheran Church,: Christmas is mostly for kids, but they give back to the city via Portland’s many fine children’s music organizations, including this accomplished 130 voice group, which sings fresh arrangements of chestnuts like “Silent Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” along with seasonal music by Jackson Berkey, David Brunner, Gwyneth Walker and more.

“Calling My Children Home,” Aurora Chorus, Saturday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University: The 90-voice women’s choir welcomes the Bay Area’s True Life Trio to perform music by their director, Portland’s own Joan Szymko, and other contemporary choral sounds from the Americas, Eastern Europe and more.

 

Choral Arts Ensemble performs in Portland this weekend.

Choral Arts Ensemble performs in Portland this weekend.

This weekend, Oregon teems with too many holiday concerts to list. Besides those listed below, you can hear seasonal sounds from the Glory Singers in Sherwood, Oregon Chamber Singers in Southeast Portland, Emerald City Jazz Kings in Eugene and the coast, Bach Cantata Vespers in downtown Portland and even the Oregon Mandolin Quartet (playing everything from the Nutcracker to classical Indian music) in Hillsboro.

Messiah,” Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana, December 14-17, First Baptist Church, Portland: Handel’s perennial — and perennially mistimed, as it’s really more of an Easter theme — choral orchestral masterpiece tops this weekend’s list of musical attractions, involving as it does Oregon’s finest orchestra and chorus, both specialists in performing this ever-stirring music as closely as possible to the way the composer imagined it. Sunday’s concert is sold out, and Monday’s is a reduced (two hours instead of three) version suitable for listeners of reduced age and/or attention span.

Ethan Sperry leads Oregon Repertory Singers this weekend.

Ethan Sperry leads Oregon Repertory Singers this weekend.

“Glory of Christmas,” Oregon Repertory Singers, Friday & Sunday, First United Methodist Church, Portland: This splendid program’s opening concert last Sunday displayed a smart mix of modern and traditional songs,, quick pacing, and strong performances of music ranging from Renaissance masters Palestrina and Praetorius to contemporary works by the Roches, and Portland-born (Morten Lauridsen) and Portland-based (Bonnie Miksch) composers, including a lovely new “Noel” by ORS accompanist and singer/songwriter Naomi LaViolette — plus carols medieval and modern and even African.

“Ceremony of Carols,”  Choral Arts Ensemble, Saturday and Sunday, First Unitarian Church, Portland: Led by its new music director, David De Lyser, the choir performs a pair of 20th century seasonal masterworks: Francis Poulenc’s “Four Motets for Christmastime” and Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,” along with contemporary and Renaissance carol settings and more.

Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, sings Friday.

Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, sings Friday.

Choir of Jesus College Cambridge, Friday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland: It’ll feel like summer — well, a little — when English organist and conductor Mark Williams, who’s spent most of the past dozen summers in Portland leading the annual William Byrd Festival, returns with his 40-voice choir of young singers for a real old-school (Cambridge was founded in 1496) performance of new and traditional music of the season. Fans of Cantores in Ecclesia and English church music should be there.

“The Most Wonderful Season,” Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, Friday-Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland: Contemporary choral masters Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre highlight this program of holiday music ranging from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Dolly Parton, plus a ballet, “Love and Marriage.”

A German Renaissance Christmas,” Saturday, Unitarian Universalist Church, and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, Eugene: Accompanied by Byrdsong Renaissance Consort on period instruments (harpsichord, partitive organ, lute, recorders, and strings), choirs from both churches sing secular and sacred sounds from Praetorius, Widmann, and other great composers of pre-Bach German-speaking lands.

“Fiesta Navidad,” Oregon Symphony, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Saturday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland: The orchestra joins forces with the popular, award-winning Mexican mariachi band for music from American and Mexican holiday traditions.

“Cirque de Noel,” Eugene Symphony, Cirque de la Symphonie, Sunday, Hult Center, Eugene: the orchestra joins the circus, or actually vice-versa, as Moscow’s band of jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and more  perform a family-friendly program of seasonal sounds.

“The Sema Ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes,” Timucin Cevikoglu, Moa Ensemble, and Semazens, Tiffany Center (Crystal Ballroom), Portland: For a different kind of spiritual experience, the master musician (on the ney flute, various drums and other instruments) and Turkish Ministry of Culture representative joins other traditional Sufi musicians from Turkey in a concert of sacred Turkish classical music and the celebrated Sema Ceremony, in which robed dancers perform a spinning worship. It’s a truly moving spectacle.

 
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