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The Big 100 of 2015

ArtsWatch picks a hundred tales that helped shape the cultural year from stage to page to studio and beyond

It’s the end of the year, and the numbers game is in full swing. Top Five lists (handy to count on the fingers of one hand). Top Tens (double your digits, double your fun). The best of this, the best of that, the movies or books or songs we should feel ashamed, the drumbeat often makes us feel, if we didn’t see, read, or hear.

Here at ArtsWatch, we like to play the numbers game, too. But we see it less as a competition than as a cultural road map. What were the stories or events that gave the year 2015 its distinctive flavor in Oregon? How was the year shaped, as Oregon ArtsWatch’s writers and editors saw it?

It’s been a year when the venerable Portland Opera took its first steps toward reinventing itself as a summer-festival company (the new format kicks in fully in 2016) and the even more venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival raised an international ruckus by commissioning contemporary “translations” from 36 playwrights of all of Shakespeare’s plays: Sacrilege!, the cries rang out. The argument between traditionalists and impatient new-music advocates sometimes seemed to drive a wedge straight into the heart of the classical/serious music world, too.

Meanwhile, the Fertile Ground festival of new works grew even bigger, filling the city’s stages with fresh theater and dance, from rough drafts to staged readings to full-blown productions; and premieres later in the year such as Artists Rep’s Cuba Libre drew enthusiastic crowds. Music festivals in places like Astoria, Jacksonville and Eugene continued to prosper, spreading the cultural wealth around the state. PICA’s TBA festival once again pumped a little outside blood into the city’s scene.


Beerthoven’s Pint

Best appreciated after consuming more than your share of New Year's champagne


Editor’s note: Since the Oregon Symphony is again playing Beethoven’s Symphony #9 to ring in the new year, we asked Ludwig van’s distant descendant, Beerthoven, to comment on his ancestor’s masterpiece. He didn’t, really, but who cares? 

What do Jenna Jameson and Charles Barkley have in common, aside from Charles’ traffic ticket because he was in a hurry to get a blow job (frankly the police should have let him go simply for giving a completely honest answer as to why he was speeding but never mind that)? Combined, we can refer to them as the “Round Mounds of Rebounds.” Aside from that, both of them spent time performing in the entertainment industry. It’s not sports, it’s sports entertainment. That Vince McMahon dude from WWE got it right.

Conductor Herbert von Karajan's statue in Salzburg.

Conductor Herbert von Karajan’s statue in Salzburg.

Now what do Charles, Jenna and (and if you have a different conductor that you particularly dislike feel free to substitute your personal choice here) Herbert von Karajan have in common? Absolutely nothing: Herbie the K never did learn that he was in the entertainment industry.

Let’s try a different comparison. What do gold, silver, and copper have in common with Herbie? Again, absolutely nothing; gold, silver and copper are excellent conductors.

Before anyone tries to point out that Jenna’s silicone monuments qualify her as a semiconductor (and that is more credit than I will assign to Herbie), it is silicon that is the semiconductor, not silicone. I didn’t intend this to become a lesson in metallurgy (that is a pretty big word for such a small beer; I had better correct that) so it’s time to move on.

The frequency that I find things noteworthy (good or bad) is not particularly high. The last piece of “classical” music that I heard for the first time that I even remember was by Carl Nielsen, and that was at least 15 years ago (remembering it means that it didn’t make me want to throw up or that I did throw up after hearing it). I don’t count soundtracks for movies; if I did, the Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Alien series would count for much.

I am sure that this is going somewhere even if none of us has figured out when or where. Somewhere along the line, I have referred to some pompous fuck waving a stick. I am sure that if I try hard enough, I can find something good to say about the pompous fucks. Well, this took a lot of effort (and beer) but the really good thing about pompous fucks is that if I wait long enough, they die! Rest in peace Herbie, I can’t honestly say that I miss you or any of the others.

I do not believe that the musicians are so talentless that they require having a stick waved in front of them to be able to perform. I for one would like to hear a piece, and preferably one that I am familiar with performed without the pompous stick waving fuck in front. Maybe it would suck, and maybe it would put some new life into music that is old and stale. Of course I also think that baseball managers don’t know anything about baseball, but they are extremely good (at least the good ones) at managing a bunch of inflated egos.

The Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven's Symphony #9 on Wednesday night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on Wednesday night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Now that bowl season is in full swing, this brings me to college football. On the surface, college football does not appear to have much to do with music, classical or otherwise. Perhaps I am dating myself a bit, but there was a time when at halftime, the marching bands were shown on TV. Today was not one of those days however. For those of you keeping track, the USC band played “Victory” 18 times and “Conquest” 22 times. Not that I know the difference between the two (in that respect they remind me of Mozart’s first 13 symphonies except Conquest and Victory are both far more memorable).

These days there still is one game where the marching bands get some airtime and that is the Bayou Classic (someone went to the NASCAR and WWE schools of Marketing) between Southern University and Grambling State University.

A marching band is slightly different from a symphony orchestra. On one hand, the musicians get off their ass while they are playing (unlike a symphony orchestra). They are also spread out over 50 or 60 yards where a symphony may be spread out over 60 feet. There are other things that can be compared between the two and unfortunately one of those is that a marching band again has some pompous fuck waving a stick in front of it. Sometimes it is a couple of pompous fucks waving sticks. Being someone who has actually watched the people playing the instruments instead of the pompous stick-waving fuck, I have a couple of observations.

Some of these people have a card dimension of QxQ in front of them. At an angle Z that represents their displacement in meters T, the pompous stick-waving fuck is completely invisible behind the card, but these people can still play something that is recognizable (even to uneducated barbarians such as myself). Never mind that I left out that sound travels at a specific speed if temperature and pressure are constant. Never mind that the Superdome is an acoustic nightmare. Just ignore that hurricane blowing in, it will not make any difference. If you do not believe me, take a physics class. Fuck, take 2 or 3 physics classes, we are all idiots here (Ok, I’m not an idiot, I just play one on the internet and sometimes I do a better job than other times).

Most of us have seen or heard groups of different size perform. It might be 3 – 5 people, it might 15, it might be 50 or 100 or 435 or 1,000. Have you ever noticed that as a group gets larger, inevitably it winds up with some pompous fuck waving a stick? I rarely see rock bands with 3-8 members or string trios/quartets/quintets with a conductor. On the other side, I see some very dysfunctional groups of varying size like the state legislature, symphony orchestras, the US House of Representatives, and the US Senate. These groups all have something in common. Care to guess what it is? That’s right, it is some pompous fuck waving a stick, including gavels.


Next time you go to the Symphony, or the Ballet, or the Metallica concert, or the Opera, or whatever the fuck I left out, remember that that pompous stick waving fuck really does not have a functional use.

My dislike of pompous fucks waving a stick is pretty well documented. Some of you would consider me a pompous fuck, and you would be right. I however manage to be one without waving a stick in front of a bunch of people.

Next time we search for the elusive non-pompous stick waving fuck, but until then, I am out of beer.

This post appeared in slightly more inebriated form on Beerthoven is an actual Oregonian, but has never written for Oregon ArtsWatch. The Oregon Symphony performs Beethoven’s — not Beerthoven’s — Ninth Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Want to read more of… whatever this is? Support Oregon ArtsWatch! 

New Year’s MusicWatch

If you want to enter 2016 accompanied by live music, you've got choices ranging from jazz to classical to global sounds to medieval music.

Ode to Joy”
December 29-30
Oregon Symphony, Portland Symphonic Choir, Meow Meow, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland
Read my Willamette Week preview of what’s fast becoming an essential holiday party, featuring Beethoven’s iconic Symphony #9, holiday cheer, and lots and lots of colorful balloons.

The Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven's Symphony #9 on Wednesday night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on Wednesday night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Randy Porter & Friends
December 31
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th, Portland.
Friends of Chamber Music’s annual NYE party features jazz pianist Randy Porter, bassist John Wiitala, and drummer Michael Raynor performing jazz arrangements of some of the songbook standards written by one of the greatest of all songwriters, Jerome Kern, who wrote the music for Showboat, the immortal Astaire/Rodgers film Swing Time (which included “The Way You Look Tonight”) and so many other Broadway and Hollywood classics. Porter, one of Oregon’s most esteemed jazzers, has played with legends like Benny Golson and Art Farmer as well as much of the cream of the Portland jazz scene. There’s an optional 4:30 pm dinner before the 7:30 pm concert.

“New Year’s Eve Concert”
December 31
This benefit for Trinity Hunger Ministries features Big Horn Brass, The Ensemble, Fear No Music, The Julians, Northwest Art Song, Pacific Youth Choir, cellist Tim Scott, and organist Christopher Lynch.

DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid and Uproot Andy
December 31
Melody Ballroom, 615 SE Alder St. Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the NYE two-level dance party that mixes DJ and live performances, bhangra and samba, music and dance, and more.

Cappella Romana's male vocal ensemble sings Byzantine and Roman chant in Portland.

Cappella Romana’s male vocal ensemble sings Byzantine and Roman chant in Portland.

Cappella Romana
January 2, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave.; January 3, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1739 NW Couch St. Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the vocal ensemble’s Epiphany concert of medieval Byzantine and Roman chant.

Hailey Niswanger Quartet
January 2
Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave. Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the rising jazz star’s second show during her holiday swing through her hometown, this one featuring a different band and older material than her earlier PDX Soul gig.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch! 

ArtsWatch Weekly: In the Oregon Cultural Trust We Trust

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

And on the fifty-second week, ArtsWatch rested. For the most part, anyway. We hope you’ve been resting, too: Pretty soon, January’s going to come in huffing and puffing and roaring for attention.

In the meantime, we still have a couple of days, and here’s hoping they go smoothly and pleasingly for everyone. Happy New Year, from our home to yours. Let’s hope Old Man 2015 tiptoes softly away more successfully than his predecessor 1904, who got the bum’s rush from that feisty youngster 1905:

Baby New Year chasing the old year into the history books, John T. McCutcheon, from the book "The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon," New York; McClure, Philips & Co., 1905. Wikimedia Commons

Baby New Year chasing the old year into the history books, John T. McCutcheon, from the book “The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon,” New York; McClure, Philips & Co., 1905. Wikimedia Commons


We’ll note one more deadline before the year turns, and it’s a good and important one. Maybe you’ve already done it. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the countdown. We’re talking about your yearly donations to nonprofit organizations. For tax purposes, the deadline is the end of the year: choose those groups you want to support, decide how much you can give, and become part of the process. Oregon’s innovative Oregon Cultural Trust adds a terrific deal sweetener: match your donations to cultural groups with an equal gift to the Trust (up to a limit; $500 individual, $1,000 couples filing jointly, $2,500 corporate), and get the full amount you give to the Trust as a credit on your Oregon state income taxes.That amounts to doubling your donation for free. And the Cultural Trust spreads the money to every corner of the state, supporting arts, cultural, and tribal projects. Here’s how to make your Oregon Cultural Trust donation.


Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit, too. As the world of journalism changes, new forms of making it possible are taking shape, and we’ve chosen the nonprofit model, which allows us to accept donations from individuals, foundations, and other sources. Without those gifts, we couldn’t do what we do. As you’re making your year-end choices, please consider us, too. Here’s how to subscribe or donate to ArtsWatch. Thanks!



ArtsWatch links

The sounds of Oregon.  Our man at the turntable, MC Brett, has been spinning the discs of Oregon music released in 2015, and scratching out his thoughts about what he hears. Read Brett Campbell’s recommendations on contemporary classical recordings (David Schiff and Chamber Music Northwest, Susan Chan’s Echoes of China, The City of Tomorrow’s Nature, Catherine Lee + Matt Hannifin Duo’s Five Shapes, the Oregon Symphony’s Spirit of the American Range) and on historically informed recordings (three terrific recordings from the choir Cappella Romana, one terrific Bach recording from Portland Baroque Orchestra). Fair warning: Reading these posts may lead you to go out and buy some CDs for yourself.

In Mulieribus: approaching perfection. One of our favorite Oregon musical groups is the eight-woman chorus In Mulieribus, which roots around in music medieval and otherwise, and does quite wonderful things with it. Bruce Browne went to the chorus’s recent concert at St. Philip Neri Church and declared it nigh unto perfection. We’re bound to say, that’s pretty good.

Rachel Tess, early in the morning. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Rachel Tess at her own game. While most of us were still in bed on Monday morning, Tess was out on the streets of Northwest Portland, dancing the still-gloomy extended night away starting at 5:30 a.m. A few people were there to watch. Before that early-morning smackdown, Jamuna Chiarini talked with Tess about what was up, and why, with Rachel, a performance for the dead of night.



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

Become a member now!


Oregon music on record 2015: Worldly and jazzy

New CDs of Northwest jazz and global music

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time; this one covers releases of special interest to fans of global sounds and jazz. See our previous posts in this series for Oregon early music and contemporary classical CDs, and don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

seffarineDe Fez a Jerez
Oud player/flamenco guitarist Nat Hulskamp is one of Oregon’s most experienced world music stars, playing in various ensembles and venues around town for years. With help from a 2015 Project Grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Seffarine, his primary duo with Moroccan singer Lamiae Naki, recorded their ten original compositions with famous flamenco musicians Tomasa “La Macanita,” percussionist Luís de Periquín, and Diego del Mora (Paco de Lucia’s favorite guitarist) in the Jerez, Spain (known for its pervasive Gypsy culture), with further recording sessions in Portland.

Sung in Naki’s native Arabic as well as French and Spanish and accompanied by flamenco guitar, oud, Persian kamancheh and sehtar, bass and percussion, the new album soulfully embraces flamenco, Moroccan, Persian, Malagasy, jazz and Brazilian influences, courtesy of Persian multi-instrumentalist Bobak Salehi (Hulskamp’s partner in the Portland ensemble Shabava) on kamancheh (spike fiddle), sehtar and tar (lutes) and violin, bassist Damian Erskine, Malagasy percussionist Manavihare Fiaindratovo and Indian tabla player Anil Prasad.

Such an extreme range of diverse voices could easily turn into a contrived multicultural mush, but it all feels seamless and natural, tied together by Naki’s plangent vocals and Hulskamp’s flamenco flourishes and their original songwriting voice. Fans of groups like the Gipsy Kings, Oregon, or Portland’s Al-Andalus will find much to enjoy, and this enchanting album deserves international attention.

Gamelan Pacifica
Seattle’s Gamelan Pacifica continues the tradition, established largely by Portland-born American composer Lou Harrison, of making traditional Javanese percussion ensemble music a living multicultural tradition, not an ethnomusicological museum. That’s not surprising, since the ensemble was founded and led by one of Harrison’s earliest proteges, composer and musician Jarrad Powell, who now teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, where the instruments are based. And like Harrison, the composers here are so familiar with traditional Javanese karawitan (gamelan music) that they can fruitfully experiment within its structures.


Oregon music on record 2015: Contemporary classical

21st century sounds from Oregon composers and musicians

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time, and this one covers mostly contemporary music from Oregon composers. And don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 20122013, and 2014, or our previous entry focusing on Oregon early music ensembles.

David Schiff CD Cover ImageDavid Schiff: Chamber Music Northwest Premieres (2000-2014)
“All of my music is a form of autobiography,” writes Portland composer David Schiff in the liner notes to this new compilation. Judging by this two-disk survey compiling festival performances of five of his most recent compositions, the 70 year old composer has led a pretty fascinating musical life, and this important set chronicles the latest stretch.

The release is a product of one of Oregon’s most fruitful creative collaborations: the three-decade long partnership between Chamber Music Northwest and Schiff. Almost alone among major Oregon music institutions, CMNW has invested in its hometown’s creative potential through its frequent commissions of new music from the Reed College prof. The result is a body of chamber music that stands with any other American composer’s of the period.


Rachel Tess, early in the morning

Rachel Tess talks about the art and thinking behind her early-morning performance on Monday

Native Portland choreographer and performer Rachel Tess (currently splitting her time between Sweden and Portland) would like you to join her on Monday morning at 5:30 am at the The Pinnacle Pavilion on 1210 NW 10th Avenue for a walking/dancing exploration of a world that sleeps, choreographed by experimental choreographer Peter Mills. Bring a warm cup of coffee, a coat, an umbrella and your adventurous spirit. Message her ahead of time to let her know you are coming at

Tess is interested in developing performances unique to neighborhoods and urban spaces, collaborating with visual, musical, and theatrical artists and fostering community and promoting dialogue between community members, leaders and activists.

Tess trained at Oregon Ballet Theatre, earned her BFA at Juilliard where she received a Princess Grace Award in 2002, performed with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, Gothenburg Opera Ballet and held a permanent position with the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm.

This is the place by Benoît Lachambre and Rachel Tess at Milvus Artistic Research Center in 2014. Photo by Darial Sneed.

‘This is the place’ by Benoît Lachambre and Rachel Tess at Milvus Artistic Research Center in 2014. Photo by Darial Sneed.

She has premiered her choreographic works in Stockholm, Montreal, New York City, Costa Rica, and Portland, Oregon. She was part of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch in 2010 for her work as co-­director of Rumpus Room Dance in Portland.

In 2013, Tess received her masters in choreography from the New Performative Practices Master’s program at DOCH-School of Dance and Circus at the Stockholm University of the Arts. She won and completed a Princess Grace Foundation Works in Progress Residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City with her ongoing project Souvenir in 2013.

She is the director of Milvus Artistic Research Center in Kivik—a residency program in Sweden that sits on approximately 27 acres of farmland on the edge of Stenshuvud National Park in Kivik, Sweden. The center offers space to performing artists to create work. And she directs Rachel Tess Dance in Portland.

Peter Mills is a choreographer, dancer, performer, artist, activist, researcher, teacher and mentor. Peter has a masters in choreography from Dans och Cirkushögskolan, where he worked on choreography through documentation as an ethical practice, towards anti-authoritarian ideals.

Tess and Mills met at the University of Dance in Stockholm, immediately entering into critical debate and a lasting friendship and artistic partnership.

Over the holiday Tess and I corresponded via email, and she was kind enough to answer all of my questions. Here are those questions and answers.


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