Oregon ArtsWatch

 

ArtsWatch year in theater 2017

From "Astoria" to "The Humans" with a whole lot in between, a month-by-month stroll with ArtsWatch through the year in Oregon theater

From Portland Center Stage’s Astoria: Part I (Part II is streaming around the bend in January, along with an encore run for Part I) to Artists Rep’s The Humans and a slew of holiday shows, it’s been a busy, busy year in Oregon theater.

In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival rolled out another season blending contemporary and classic with a wide-angle world view. And the fine actor G. Valmont Thomas, after spending a season playing Falstaff in all three plays in which the great character appears, died in December from bone cancer, at age 58.

In Hillsboro, Bag&Baggage, which had been temporarily homeless, opened a spiffy new home in a renovated downtown former bank building.

In Portland, the sprawling Fertile Ground festival introduced dozens of new works (and, like Astoria, is gearing up for a fresh new run in January). Chris Coleman, Center Stage’s artistic director for 17 years, announced he would be leaving at the end of this season to take over the theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. TCG, the influential Theatre Communications Group, held its annual conference in Portland. And theater companies large and small produced more plays than The Count could count in a dozen seasons of Sesame Street.

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Bach Cantata Choir: sweet rejoicing

Portland chorus channels joy in singing  into artistic growth

by BRUCE BROWNE

Portland’s Bach Cantata Choir has grown in artistic excellence in the past several years. The sonic values are fresh and vibrant. This choir has a wide age range, fine choral singers all. Many have labored in the choral trenches for several decades and are joined by a healthy number of those beginning their choral careers. So how do they maintain a composite and youngish sound? Good coaching, perhaps something more ephemeral.

Friday night’s concert offered more evidence of BCC’s growth and clues to its success. Under the leadership of founder Ralph Nelson, the singers and orchestra were fervent and compelling in the main work of the evening, the first three cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio presented at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church to an overflow crowd.

Bach Cantata Choir sang music from their namesake’s ‘Christmas Cantata’ and more.

Leading the way, but not as imposing as Bach, were two shorter works: Dieterich Buxtehude’s (1637-1707) “In Dulci Jublilo” (With sweet rejoicing), and “In Nativitatem Domini Canticum” (Song of the Lord’s Birth) by French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704). Both were conducted by the choir’s assistant conductor, Emma Mildred Riggle.

Within BCC choral ranks, Mr. Nelson finds soloists who can fill the bill of quality performance. Charpentier’s quite charming In Nativitatem, one of his Latin motets for sacred services exhibiting both French and Italian baroque styles, was convincingly enhanced by four soloists: soprano Josephine Petersen, alto Megan Mattoon, tenor David Foley and bass John Vergin all showed off fine musicianship and vocal training.

Ms. Riggle masterfully enlivened this motet with well chosen tempi and strong leadership. This was a delicate, lyrical counterpoint to the other works on the program. Riggle is on a positive arc as conductor and leader, displaying clarity and authority, demonstrated particularly in the Charpentier.

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ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

We’re able to bring smart coverage to dance and other disciplines because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

 


 

A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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A dozen great reads from 2017

From a Lewis Carroll lark to a rambling Road Dog to a play about a baby to art out of ocean garbage, twelve ArtsWatch stories not to miss

A dance critic walks into an art show. A man and his dog travel the byroads of America. A pop song sinks into a writer’s soul. A jazz pianist walks into the wilderness. A play about a baby strikes a theater reviewer close to home. On the southern Oregon coast, artists make huge sculptures from the detritus that chokes the sea.

We run a lot of stories on a lot of subjects at Oregon ArtsWatch – more than 500 in 2017 alone – and a few stand out simply as stories that want to be told. Put together a good writer and a good subject and chances are you’ll get a memorable tale. Here are a dozen such stories from 2017.

 


 

We’re able to tell the stories we tell because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

 


 

A look back at a dozen stories from 2017 you won’t want to miss:

 

Matthew Kerrigan reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, with a fleeting attention span ruled by a smartphone.

We’re all mad here … so let’s party

Jan. 31: “What do you do with your existential frustration? If you boil it down into its purest form, you get either despair or rage—which then has to be dealt with. But if you chill it out and mix in some humor, you end up with absurdity. And that can be played with! O Frabjous Day!” A.L. Adams got down in the existential trenches with Shaking the Tree’s We’re All Mad Here, a piece performed and largely conceived by Matthew Kerrigan in homage to the great absurdist Lewis Carroll. “Any drug-addled dodo could dream up a different world, but that wasn’t the crux of Carroll’s vision. Like his forebears Aesop and Chaucer and Jonathan ‘Gulliver’ Swift, Carroll was a satirist as well as a fabulist.”

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Arletta O’Hearn: Oregon icon of Christmas cool

Oregon composer, teacher, and jazz pianist empowers thousands to play the music they love

by RHONDA RIZZO

Editor’s note: We’re republishing last year’s popular story about playing holiday music — an Oregon ArtsWatch perennial. You’re probably already hearing the holiday tunes blaring from speakers at the malls, in lobbies of businesses, even when you’re on hold. But if you want to actually play holiday tunes yourself at a holiday gathering, rather than passively enduring the same old same old recordings, you might turn to an Oregon icon of Christmas Cool. 

“I love ‘Christmas Time is Here,’ but I can’t play it.” This, from my beginning adult student who was super motivated, but realistic. Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown sound is difficult to master, even by advanced players. Luckily, a plugged-in piano teacher turned me on to Arletta O’Hearn’s jazz arrangements of Christmas carols. They’re easy to master, easy on the pocketbook ($3.95 to $4.95 per book!), and beautifully poignant in a Guaraldi kind of way.  


As poignant as Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” Arletta O’Hearn’s wistful version of “Up on the Housetop” is very playable and from her easiest book of Christmas arrangements, the pink
Christmas Seasonings.  © Neil A. Kjos Music Company. Used with permission 2016.

While the feisty Arletta O’Hearn is admired world-wide for her jazz compositions and arrangements, she’s been hoarded within the piano teaching circles… unintentionally. In fact, O’Hearn lives right here in Portland, Oregon! I’ve used her smart, accessible jazzed-up Christmas arrangements for beginning to intermediate students who wanted to play something that sounded Count Basie tasteful without requiring the Art Tatum chops. For advanced players, sight-reading through these books makes even a Grinch like me grin through the holidays.

Arletta O’Hearn playing Ellington.

The well known (but only in certain circles) jazz composer and arranger of Christmas tunes came in through the back door, eschewing the traditional path toward becoming a beloved icon. Former Portland pianist and teacher Rhonda Rizzo interviewed Arletta O’Hearn in 2013 for the Oregon Music Teachers Association. With her permission, we present an edited version, along with my annotated score excerpts and sound files I recorded so you can see and hear how easy it is for pianists of all skill levels to learn, just in time for the holidays. Click on each track below the score excerpt to play. 

O’Hearn’s music is available through Portland Music Company. Oregon’s own Christmas gift to music has made the holidays a little happier for thousands around the world! — Maria Choban.

Arletta O’Hearn’s first experience with college piano instruction didn’t go well. The teenager came to the University of Oregon to study with renowned teacher Aurora Underwood. “The first year I was there, Aurora was on sabbatical,” O’Hearn recalls. “The substitute didn’t know how to teach anyone but advanced students. He was there for graduate work and was too young. He couldn’t see the yearning in my soul to play. He couldn’t teach me.”

The experience of working with that teacher was so unpleasant that O’Hearn did not re-enroll. But it must have left an impression, because O’Hearn went on to create a career that made music accessible to anyone — not just piano professionals — who loves it.

O’Hearn’s creative journey has been filled with study, discovery, and an open-minded embrace of many styles of music. Her solid classical training combined with real-world jazz playing experience produced well-crafted, pedagogically sound compositions that are doorways through which classical piano students can enter the world of jazz.

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Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

We’ve been able to tell their stories because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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In Mulieribus review: musical time travel

Portland vocal ensemble's Christmas concert brings ancient music to life

by BRUCE BROWNE

In medieval Europe, “Mulier taceat in ecclesia” (women must be quiet in church) was the order of the day, until for at least two more centuries. That didn’t stop the women of In Mulieribus, the Portland women’s group of seven voices directed by Anna Song, on Wednesday evening at the St. James Proto-Cathedral in Vancouver WA. Virtually none of the music they performed would have been sung by women when it was written. So the singers deserve extra credit for modeling the treble voices we would have heard 600 years ago, arrived at essentially by non-vibrato singing and very careful blending. Except for the inclusion of female voices, what we heard from In Mulieribus is about as close to going back in time as we can get. The concert is repeated in Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on Friday, December 22.

These women showed how much musical mastery those early audiences were missing. At its core, a truly memorable concert is composed of two things: curation (choosing the right pieces) and animation — bringing them to life, preserving their sonic essence in the chosen concert space. In Mulieribus accomplished both. Each piece was a gleaming gem in its own way and taken together created a palpable arch form. Waves of overtones were generated in St. James. And these occur only when a choir is singing perfectly in a perfectly tuned, perfectly blended manner.

In Mulieribus performed Wednesday in Vancouver and sings the same program Friday in Portland. Photo: David Lloyd Imageworks.

The repertoire was adroitly grouped in two ways: by subject – Angels and Prophecies, Magi, Shepherds, The Birth; and by region — notably England, France and Italy, all of which shared, during this time, a Roman Catholic visage of time and place. Each disparate regional style was presented cunningly by Ms. Song and the women, who constantly avoid the quotidian with grace and forethought. The highly decorative “Gloria,” from the Tournai Mass of 14th century France, was crystalline in its clarity and balance. Thought to have been concocted by several different composers, the Tournai is considered one of the earliest Missa tota, the complete mass presenting all five parts of the Ordinary – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. (Guillaume Machaut’s Messe de Notra Dame, the first known complete setting by a single composer, will be performed in Seattle and Portland February 2-3 by Cappella Romana).

The two Italian pieces, Magi videntes Stellam (The Magi seeing the stars) by Agostino Agazzari (1578-1640) and Omens de Saba venient (All they coming from Saba) by Giovanni Asola (1532-1609) were ravishing. The latter, referring to the Ethiopian city of Saba, was especially poignant in its energetic celebration of the “bringing of the gifts” and showing praise. Perhaps the most advanced in its harmonies and fullness of texture, it approached the high Renaissance styles of the contemporaries Palestrina and Victoria.

Choosing concert repertoire can be very tricky, especially in this day of accessibility to such a wide variety of literature. No, wait. Shouldn’t that make it easier? Certainly it is easier to access, to retrieve the pieces. The British Museum can, one might imagine, dispatch a digital manuscript across the pond in a matter of minutes. It is the culling of works, picking those which are true to the period (some primary source) and right for the group, and possess historical integrity. That is the hallmark of Anna Song’s programming.

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