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ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

By Brett Campbell
December 28, 2017
Featured, Music

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

“The Banshee” preview: confronting the dark side
UO Music Today Festival premieres a new opera by Daniel Daly MAY 8 GARY FERRINGTON.

Lou Harrison at 100: a global musical legacy, born in Oregon
Portland classical music groups have shamefully ignored the music of Oregon’s greatest composer in his centennial year — but that’s about to change.MAY 13 BRETT CAMPBELL.

‘Extradition’ review: difficult on purpose Creative Music Guild concert embraces experimental, aleatoric, multiphonic, ritualistic, electronic and ultimately rewarding sounds. JUNE 7 MATTHEW ANDREWS

‘The Woman of Salt’ preview: from trauma to opera
Her family sundered by homophobia, a Eugene composer confronts a painful moment from her past by creating a new opera. JUNE 21 RACHAEL CARNES

Jonah Parzen-Johnson and Sage Fisher at ISOP 2017.

Improvisation Summit of Portland review: spontaneous community
Creative Music Guild’s annual two-day celebration of improvisation embraced varied forms of music and dance. JULY 31 PATRICK MCCULLEY

Composer Justin Ralls: inspired by nature
Oregon composer’s environmental chamber opera ‘Two Yosemites’ sets new direction for Opera Theater Oregon. SEPTEMBER 5  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Gary Ferrington’s Making ‘Two Yosemites’.

Cascadia Composers & Delgani Quartet: performance matters. Fall concerts show the value of prepared, skilled musicians to new music showcases. DECEMBER 4  BRETT CAMPBELL.

Justin Ralls composer/naturalist

‘The Emerald Tablet’ and ‘Nonsense’ reviews: from playground to pulpit
A pair of Portland composer showcases range from the delightfully ridiculous to the seriously sublime. DECEMBER 18 BRETT CAMPBELL

Natural Music

Naturally, many Oregon concerts focused on our state’s outdoor attractions.

Third Angle preview: Natural sounds
New music ensemble’s ‘Solo Hikes’ shows feature nature-inspired commissions from Oregon composers APRIL 4 BRETT CAMPBELL

Margaret Linn, Darrell Grant, Luciana Proano in the Elliott Forest. Photo: Lynn Darroch.

What’s jazz got to do with it?
Darrell Grant: Art, environment and politics in the Elliott State Forest APRIL 10 LYNN DARROCH

‘Music of the Forest’ preview: Old growth, new music UO Music Today Festival concert features contemporary Oregon music inspired by old growth forest soundscapes APRIL 18  GARY FERRINGTON

‘Oregonophony’ review: turning place into sound Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble concerts feature original music incorporating recorded sounds of Oregon — but not necessarily the sounds you’d expect. MAY 24 CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performed ‘Oregonophony’ in Salem and Portland. Photo: Lynn Darroch.

Cascadia Composers and Third Angle reviews: Northwest inspirations
Oregon composers create music inspired by the sounds of their home. JUNE 28 BRETT CAMPBELL

Delgani Quartet preview: Cascadian perspectives
Eugene ensemble premieres Benjamin Krause’s celebration of Cascade mountainscape. OCTOBER 23 GARY FERRINGTON.

Sergio Carreno at ‘Solo Hikes.’ Photo: Jacob Wade.

The Sound of Today

At ArtsWatch, we firmly believe that art isn’t just a historical museum but a living organism that responds to today’s world and concerns, so we focus primarily on the music that’s being made (usually) here and (mostly) now — even by composers who aren’t lucky enough to live here.

Arvo Pärt Festival preview: Spirituality in sound
Contemporary music master’s method embeds meaning in music. FEBRUARY 6 DANIEL HEILA.

See follow up reviews by Heila and John Pitman: Arvo Pärt Festival: When meaning and music collide, Arvo Pärt Festival review: Timeless and timely

‘Passio’ by candlelight. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Beyond the Sea, awash in La Mer
How a French popular song from the 1940s engulfed an American boy of the 1960s and has stayed with him through thick and thin MARCH 17  STEPHEN RUTLEDGE

Sound of Late review: free to have fun
Northwest new music ensemble delights in music by star composer Missy Mazzoli and more JUNE 16 MATTHEW ANDREWS

Dave Holland Trio preview: All about the bass
Jazz bassist and bandleader’s starry career has a Portland connection APRIL 5 ANGELA ALLEN

Claremont Trio performed music by women composers at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Chamber Music Northwest: the sound of glass ceilings shattering
Festival’s focus on female composers reveals institutions changing and opportunities for women growing, though barriers remain. JULY 10  BRETT CAMPBELL.

Read a few of our many follow-up CMNW stories — has any festival anywhere received so much extensive coverage? Chamber Music Northwest reviews: winds of change,  independent women,  defying limits

Makrokosmos 3 review: powered by percussion
Minimalist and locally grown music headlined this year’s edition of Portland’s annual summer new music marathon JULY 19 MATTHEW ANDREWS

Portland Opera staged David Lang’s ‘The Little Match Girl Passion.’

David Lang: from iconoclast to eminence
Pulitzer Prize winning composer and Bang on a Can founder’s music at Portland Opera and Chamber Music Northwest JULY 25 BRETT CAMPBELL. Read Daryl and Bruce Browne’s review of Portland Opera’s Lang double bill: Two Faces of David Lang.

It’s like a Death Dance: An interview with Demian DinéYazhi´
Death Dance honors indigenous and brown punk energy during TBA on Sept. 16 SEPTEMBER 13 HANNAH KRAFCIK

Rebecca Jones, lead singer of WEEDRAT

Northwest Art Song, Susan Graham reviews: women in and out of love
The Ensemble and Friends of Chamber Music present two vocal concerts featuring old and new songs about the female experience of love OCTOBER 30 JEFF WINSLOW

Creative Perspectives

In addition to sending experienced observers to performances, ArtsWatch also sometimes provides a forum for creative artists themselves, either recounting their own experiences in creativity (or those of other artists) under their own bylines or in conversations with master interviewers like OAW’s Alice Hardesty.

A Cascadia Composer in Cuba
A Portland composer brings her music to Havana, and returns with a new perspective on music in everyday life. MAY 19 CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Rusnak’s Tundra Tapestry was also one of three recollections of last summer’s Composing in the Wilderness program in Alaska shared by Cascadia composers on ArtsWatch, along with Brent Lawrence’s On Distant Hills and Jennifer Wright’s Song of Beginnings.

Libby Meyer, Jennifer Wright, Sarah Stehn, Corinna Hogan and Christina Rusnak at Composing in the Wilderness.

Ambrose Akinmusire review: embracing risk
Acclaimed young trumpeter’s artistic fearlessness sets an example that transcends music JUNE 27  DOUGLAS DETRICK

Philip Setzer interview: keeping it fresh
As the Emerson Quartet completes its Chamber Music Northwest residency, a founder talks about new music, a new music/theater project, and what great violinists really think about onstage. That’s one of several of Alice’s interviews with Emerson and other chamber musicians. JULY 27 ALICE HARDESTY

Institutional Appraisals

Along with profiles of individual creators, ArtsWatch covers the institutions that present their music. Here’s a sampling of this year’s coverage, including the in-depth feature that presaged the devastation of one of Oregon’s premiere music institutions.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival
Declining ticket sales and choices accompany University of Oregon festival’s shift in focus and leadership JUNE 12  TOM MANOFF

Bach Fest: the $90,000 solution
After the University of Oregon fires Matthew Halls, it pays him $90,000 – but only if he keeps his mouth shut. And the crisis remains. SEPTEMBER 15 BOB HICKS

Conductor Matthew Halls and soprano soloist Sherezade Panthaki at Halls’s final Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Athene Delene.

William Byrd Festival preview: auspicious anniversary
As the summer Renaissance music festival celebrates its 20th edition, it continues to expand its scope and audience. AUGUST 11 BRETT CAMPBELL

PDX Jazz Festival preview: Signs of life
Portland jazz scene remains vital despite popular club’s sudden closure FEBRUARY 9 BRETT CAMPBELL

PDX Jazz Festival reviews: Hearing the home folks
Portland’s own jazz stars shine at annual national jazz showcase. FEBRUARY 24 DOUG RAMSEY

Marilyn Keller performed at Portland Jazz Festival.

Montavilla Jazz Festival: turning crisis into community
This weekend’s festival shows how arts can help build community in an unaffordable city AUGUST 17 DOUGLAS DETRICK

Pops Goes the Oregon Symphony
Orchestra’s steadily expanding non-classical performances aim for more diverse audiences. APRIL 25 CLAIRE SYKES

Norman Huynh is the OSO’s Associate Conductor. Photo: Richard Kolbell.

Vancouver Symphony review: from the other side of the river
Orchestra’s performances of challenging classics reveals musical quality across the Columbia MAY 9 TERRY ROSS

Eugene Symphony music director search: Next star?
Orchestra’s successful track record of finding exciting young conductors has made it a national model MARCH 13  BRETT CAMPBELL

Eugene Symphony music director search: Clear choice
With the orchestra’s series of audition concerts now complete, one candidate stands head, shoulders, and baton above the rest MARCH 21 TOM MANOFF

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting the Eugene Symphony Orchestra at the Hult Center.

Francesco Lecce-Chong: at home in Oregon
Eugene Symphony’s new music director, who conducts the orchestra’s season-opening concert this week, begins by engaging with his new community SEPTEMBER 19 BRETT CAMPBELL

Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic reviews: among the young stars Season ending concerts from Portland youth orchestras showcase the area’s young classical musicians JUNE 9 TERRY ROSS

David Hattner led PYP’s Spring Concert at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Symphony reviews: making old music new
On a single May weekend, two Portland orchestras tried different approaches to renewing a venerable musical form JULY 7 MATTHEW ANDREWS

Portland Concert Opera preview: up close and personal
New company’s performances in intimate spaces brings audiences deeper into the music NOVEMBER 14 BRETT CAMPBELL

Choral Coverage

I don’t know of any other general readership arts publication covering choral music — the most popular performing art in America, with more than 20 million participants — as much as Oregon ArtsWatch, thanks principally to our esteemed writer and choral music authority Bruce Browne. Here are just a few of many examples.

In Mulieribus preview: from medieval to madrigals
Women’s vocal ensemble’s tenth anniversary season continues with madrigals, new music — and men MARCH 2 BRETT CAMPBELL

In Mulieribus.

Portland Symphonic Choir review: magnificent melange
Triumphant Oregon premiere of composer John Muehleisen’s massive ‘Pieta’ combines varied musical styles and poetry to respond to social illsNOVEMBER 9 BRUCE BROWNE

Portland State Choirs preview: knocking on heaven’s door
University’s award winning Chamber Choir, Man Choir and Vox Femina sing music by acclaimed choral composer Eriks Esenvalds and more in CD release concerts NOVEMBER 10 BRETT CAMPBELL

International Angles

While our focus will always be on Oregon creativity, ArtsWatch isn’t insular: we also cover artistic interactions between Oregon and the rest of the world.

Portland Taiko: Rebuilding community through music
The Portland percussion ensemble embraces diversity in its music and projects JANUARY 26 BRETT CAMPBELL

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

Cascadia Composers preview: From Cascadia to Cuba… and back
Culminating a cultural and musical exchange, weekend concerts feature contemporary music by composers from Oregon and Cuba.MAY 17  BRETT CAMPBELL Read Christina Rusnak’s review: FearNoMusic/Cascadia Composers review: unbounded creativity .

A China-Oregon connection: UO’s Jeffrey Stolet bridges the Pacific through music
Electroacoustic concert enriched by cross-cultural influences concludes an intensive University of Oregon workshop for visiting Chinese composers JULY 20 GARY FERRINGTON

Fear No Music & Third Angle reviews: discoveries
Portland new music ensembles open Oregon ears to music from beyond the usual sources NOVEMBER 7 MATTHEW ANDREWS

Fear No Music played recent music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: John Rudoff.

This is only a fraction of the Oregon music we covered this year on ArtsWAtch — and an even tinier fraction of what we could cover if we had the resources. We appreciate your support of our efforts to cover Oregon music with the depth and perspective rare in American journalism. As rich as our contemporary classical scene has grown lately, we’d love to deepen our coverage of it, expand our scope to keep up with our state’s burgeoning musical creativity and even explore a wider range of sounds. To do that, we need your help to pay the writers and editors who can make that happen. Thanks for reading in 2017, and we’ll see you next year!

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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