ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:


Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.


The Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall, a “home” stage that presents both perils and possibilities for the Oregon Bach Festival.

BACH GOES ON A DIET. In Eugene, the Oregon Bach Festival, one of the state’s signature cultural organizations, is off and running again, but this year it’s significantly slimmed down. What does its sudden lower profile mean? Composer and writer Tom Manoff, who was classical music critic at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered for many years, digs deep for ArtsWatch into the issues and possibilities: The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival.


Portland-based “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments,” the August Wilson Red Door Project’s touring show of works by African American writers, was featured at the TAG annual conference.

INVASION OF THE THEATER HATCHERS. Theatre Communications Group, the hub organization for American nonprofit theater, partied down in Portland for four days at its annual national conference, bringing hundreds of actors, designers, artistic directors, marketers, board members, and other contemporary theater people to the center of downtown at the height of Rose Festival mania. I wrote about one slice of the action (along with notes about Oregonians at Sunday’s Tony Awards ceremony in New York, and Portland’s own upcoming theater awards, the PAMTAs and the Drammys): Theater notes: TCG and the Tonys. Hailey Bachrach took the long view, assessing the conference’s main thrusts of diversity and “maker” creativity and what they might mean to the future of the art form: Theater at the intersection. Watch, too, for Portland writer and producer Dmae Roberts’ inside look at the convention, coming soon on ArtsWatch.




Lou Harrison at his strawbale house in California. Photo: Eva Soltes


We’re going to lead this section with some comments by the man who wrote the book on Lou Harrison, ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. (Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick, which Campbell wrote with composer Bill Alves, is fresh out from Indiana University Press.)

Campbell: “While so many 20th century composers got entangled in the thorns of dissonant modernism, Lou Harrison (1917-2003) never lost sight of melodic beauty, which is why his music has remained popular in both concert and in dance performances. Concerts around the world are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the greatest composer born in Portland, so why not his hometown? In both these concerts presented by Portland State University and Cascadia Composers (and which I helped out with a bit), Portland State faculty members perform some of Harrison’s tuneful chamber music for guitar, cello and harp, piano and more. On Friday, Portland Percussion Group plays classics for percussion ensemble by Harrison and his onetime partner John Cage, who together created the form in the 1930s. On Saturday, Portland’s Venerable Showers of Beauty gamelan ensemble (which Harrison worked with often) plays some of his pioneering fusions of Asian and Western classical music for melodic Javanese percussion and Western instruments. Both ensembles play new music written in Harrison’s tradition by members of Cascadia Composers. The weekend also features a symposium dedicated to Harrison’s music, a screening of a recent film biography, and more. Stay tuned for my full ArtsWatch preview.”

Friday-Saturday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.


26 Miles. Profile Theatre continues its season of works by Quiara Alegría Hudes with a short run of this “charming, spunky, and ultimately heartrending” (as the New York Times put it) play about a teen and her estranged mother on a spontaneous road trip. Rebecca Martinez directs Jimmy Garcia, Chris Harder, Alex Ramirez de Cruz, and Julana Torres. Thursday through June 25, Morrison Stage, Artists Rep.

SHUT DOWN. This show is subtitled “The Last Choreographers’ Showcase from PSU Students,” and that’s exactly what it is. Once again, astonishingly, Portland State University is shutting down its dance program, as well as cutting back on its theater program. This from an urban university sitting scant blocks from its city’s central cultural district, and with its own prime performance space, Lincoln Performance Hall: a university, it would seem, that of all universities in Oregon should be building up its art and performance programs, not dismantling them. So, save the last dance: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Lincoln Hall.

CoHo Summerfest. The Northwest Portland theater company’s festival of short-run shows kicks off this week with Diana Lynn Small’s Mad & a Goat, playing Thursday through Sunday. A goat farm, beer, and biscuits are involved. The festival continues through July 16.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If it’s summer (and it almost is) it must be time for Shakespeare to come out to play. And so he is, from the new Rose City Shakespeare Company, which is bringing “art, music, circus, magic, mime, and dance” to  Midsummer for three performances at Hipbone Studio. Friday and June 23-24.

Constructing Identity closing. This sprawling, revealing, often fascinating exhibition from the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American art since the late 19th century opened in late January at the Portland Art Museum and will have its final day Sunday. That happens to be Father’s Day. Take your dad. If you are a dad, have your kids take you. And read ArtsWatch’s review: Black art: a neverending story.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988), “Circe,” 1978, wool and cotton tapestry, 58 x 83 inches. On view in “Constructing Identity” at the Portland Art Museum through Sunday.




Portland State University Community Chorus
In a season when much musical consolation is needed, this free concert features one of the great requiems, by Gabriel Faure, and includes vocal soloists and Portland chamber musicians. Tuesday, First Christian Church, 1314 S.W. Park Ave.


Astoria Music Festival
On Tuesday at Grace Episcopal Church, the festival’s baroque soloists (including sublime soprano Arwen Myers) play music by Handel and Purcell on period instruments. Friday’s chamber music concert repeats the players and pieces featured in the Portland preview concert listed below. Saturday’s orchestral concert brings Portland Symphonic Choir to perform Beethoven’s mighty ninth symphony with the festival orchestra and soloists Deborah Mayer, Angela Niederloh, Marco Panuccio, and Richard Zeller. Sunday’s concert features the only contemporary music this year: a live orchestra performance of Philip Glass’s soundtrack to the film Icarus at the Edge of Time, narrated by Portland theater artist John Vergin and accompanied by David Henry Hwang’s film adaptation of physicist Brian Greene’s children’s book of the same title. Liberty Theater, Astoria.


Nani and Seffarine
The European Sephardic trio fronted by an Israeli-born chanteuse of Moroccan heritage performs traditional and original music in the ancient Ladino language of old Jewish Spain/Al Andalus, using instruments as old as oud and guitar and as new as electronic beats and EWI (electronic wind instrument). Portland’s own Seffarine duo includes Moroccan born singer/songwriter Lamiae Naki and Portland flamenco guitarist and oud master Nat Hulskamp, who’s studied with some of the world’s finest flamenco guitarists. Wednesday, The Old Church.


Django Festival AllStars
The annual American tour of European hot swing revivalists returns with their Djangological gypsy jazz, featuring Reinhardt’s guitar, violin, bass, and accordions. Thursday, Winningstad Theatre.

Astoria Music Festival Portland preview
The festival’s chamber musicians bring some of this year’s highlights to Portland, including music by Xavier Scharwenka, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner.
Thursday, The Old Church.

Man of La Mancha
Mitch Leigh and Dale Wasserman’s quintuple Tony winning 1964 setting of Don Quixote follows Showboat, Sweeney Todd and other musical classics to receive the operatic treatment — an “Impossible Dream” no longer. Thursday and Saturday, Portland Opera at Keller Auditorium.


Donny McCaslin Group 

Before the wider musical world knew McCaslin and his band as the backup ensemble for David Bowie’s final album, the jazz nation regarded him as one of the bright young saxophonists and composers, a stalwart of Maria Schneider’s orchestra who’s played with many of the greats of his generation and cut a dozen albums. This show will feature some of the music from the Bowie collaboration. Friday, Mission Theater.


Created by the all-star team of writer Arthur Laurents, composer Jule Styne, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and young lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the 1959 musical about the ultimate stage monster, er, mother still stands as one of the 20th century’s finest. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview of this new production by The Shedd, directed by Peg Major, with music directed by Robert Ashens and choreography by Caitlin Christopher. Friday-Sunday, The Shedd, Eugene.


Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
PDX Jazz’s strong summer season continues with one of the great young trumpeter/composers in jazz, a winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition who’s gone on to play with some of jazz’s biggest names and even stars beyond jazz, like Kendrick Lamar. Saturday, Mission Theater, Portland


The Pianist of Willesden Lane
The music-theater performance starring Mona Golabek returns. Read my ArtsWatch review of last year’s performances. Saturday-June 30, Portland Center Stage.

“Porch Music”
Third Angle New Music’s annual summer afternoon musical stroll this time features short chamber music performances of music by Portland pop legend Elliott Smith, Philip Glass, Prokofiev, and more, all played on porches in the leafy Northeast Portland neighborhood where Lou Harrison was born 100 years ago, though alas none of his music will be porched, but you can easily make it to dinner and the PSU Harrison Saturday evening concert post-stroll to complete an ideal new music day. Saturday, Irvington neighborhood.



ArtsWatch links


Andrea Parson and pianist Hunter Noack in NW Dance Project’s “Chopin Project.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project’s Summer Splendors. Nim Wunnan reviews the premiere of Sarah Slipper’s “inventive, ambitious” Tell Me How It Ends and the welcome return of NDP’s Chopin Project.

Youth symphonies on the rise. Terry Ross, reviewing concerts by the Portland Youth Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, discovers himself among the young stars. PYP, he declares, is “perhaps the second-best orchestra in Portland” – high praise for a band consisting of musicians college age and (much) younger.

Extradition: difficult on purpose. Mathew Andrews begins his review the Creative Music Guild’s astonishing and knotty concert with an unusual declaration: “When John Cage is the most mainstream performer on the program, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary.”

Fresh faces, historic ballet. Martha Ullman West reviews The Portland Ballet’s Ballets Russes-themed program, which premiered a hundred years after the legendary company’s only performance in Portland.

Those were the good old days. Carol Triffle’s new nostalgic comedy The Reunion at Imago, I write, arises from “a brittle absurdist comic style that seems deeply rooted in the traditions of mime and clown and slapstick comedy, and at its best can make you laugh out loud while it’s quietly breaking your heart.”

Party hearty: Sean Bowie, Danielle Vermette, Jerry Mouawad in Carol Triffle’s “The Reunion” at Imago. Photo: Kevin Young

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