Cascadia Composers preview: Engaging ears, eyes, minds


Listening to music under a darkened parabolic dome with flickering colored lights and choreographed projected video images isn’t commonly associated with the chamber music tradition. Yet that’s exactly what audiences will experience when listening becomes the melding of new music with modern performance techniques in a Cascadia Composers concert at Eugene’s historic First Christian Church on January 30.

Perceptions of Sound is designed to engage the ears and mind with a variety of acoustic and electroacoustic works presented in surprising and enlightening ways “that both challenges yet entertains,” according to concert organizer Daniel Brugh. “There’s gonna be a few lights of a variety of colors, video, some sound-induced visuals and lots and lots of darkness! This is music experienced in an alternative way.”

John Berendzen plays Robohorn at Cascadia Composers' Perceptions of Sound concert.

John Berendzen plays Robohorn at Cascadia Composers’ Perceptions of Sound concert.

Showcasing the talents and creativity of a host of local and regional composers and performing professionals, this multimedia experience draws connections between different artistic media elevating the act of listening. Several of the works have been adapted for or written specifically to take advantage of the unique space and special acoustic properties of First Christian Church’s parabolic dome.

The program will feature Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, pianist Alexander Schwarzkopf, soprano Nancy Wood and percussionist Todd Bills among many professional musicians from Eugene and Portland. The ten contributing composers include Eugene’s Paul Safar and Alexander Schwarzkopf along with Portlanders Daniel Brugh, Jennifer Wright, Jeff Winslow, Nicholas Yandell, Susan Alexjander, Ted Clifford, Lisa Ann Marsh, and Vancouver Washington’s Brandon Stewart.

Listen Up!

The evening’s event will open with a musical interlude courtesy of Portland composer and musician John Berendzen and his “Robohorn,” a hybrid electroacoustic instrument developed around a marching mellophone. This unusual DYI horn is fully mobile, self-powered, and allows Berendzen to stroll freely throughout the performance venue with the sound of the instrument being modified by reverberation within the acoustic space. (See: 3 Sisters, a film by Ani Asuncion with Robohorn soundtrack by John Berendzen.)

The concert continues with a diversity of music by Northwest composers who are actively involved in composing today’s classical music. Click the “Hear/Here” links for samples of recent work by each composer.

First Christian Church's parabolic dome provided inspiration for several of the works to be performed there at Cascadia Composers' January 30 concert.

First Christian Church’s parabolic dome provided inspiration for several of the works to be performed there at Cascadia Composers’ January 30 concert.

Elkos by Susan Alexjander uses unusual microtonal tunings derived from vibrations of the infrared world of the DNA molecule. These original light frequencies, when translated into pitches, create a sonic ‘map’ of this molecular world for the human ear…what one author called “the invisible whispers within,” she writes in a program note. It is a watery and intimate piece that flows in flexible time between a violinist and synthesizer player. The violinist must match the synthesizer’s tunings as best he or she can, but often the rub, or clash, results in interesting vibratory events which take on a life of their own. (Hear/Here)

Inspired by a Deborah Buchanan poem, Lisa Ann Marsh’s Counting Again, Beginning at One will resonate with an array of percussion sounds (vibraphone, orchestral bells, cymbal, wind chimes), piano and soprano. Lighting effects and spatial arrangement and movement of the performers augment the mystery and poignancy of the piece. (Hear/ Here)

Eugene composer and videographer Daniel Heila filmed moving imagery that inspired him based upon the abstract title White Canvas, a piece for piano, bass clarinet and alto flute by Paul Safar. Both Safar’s music and Heila’s accompanying video were purposely composed in isolation from each other, resulting in a “project of chance.” (Hear/Here)

Heartache and the influence of the earlier works of Igor Stravinsky are heard in equal measure in ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow’s Soon it will be for soprano and piano with lyrics by the composer. (Hear/Here)

Jennifer Wright's music appears on the Cascadia Composers program.

Jennifer Wright’s music appears on the Cascadia Composers program.

A solo amplified harpsichord provides an intense, rhythmically fueled sound in the premiere performance of Jennifer Wright’s You Cannot Liberate Me: Only I Can Do That for Myself. The piece, inspired by an innocent comment made by the 14th Dalai Lama (then only 15 years old) in 1950, weaves mantra-like chant rhythms and traditional Tibetan music into a thoroughly modern texture visually expressed through a live cymatics  display. (Hear/Hear)

Spectra for violin, piano, and percussion by Brandon Stewart explores the combination of sustained percussive and pianistic sounds that join, develop, enter and recede from an enveloping cloud of tone and timbre. Different “spectra” (of pitch, of timbre, of density) then manipulate that cloud. The violin, with its more limited capacity for sustaining sounds, behaves as a sculptor for the cloud and changes how we might perceive it throughout the piece. (Hear/Hear)

Daniel Brugh’s Whispers explores intimate synthesized sounds using whispers and “Shepard tones,” creating an auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower. The piano brings these sounds together into a melodic tapestry in space and time. (Hear/Hear)

What began as an experimental post-rock composition for electric guitars, bass, organ, horn, trumpet and two wordless voices by Nicholas Yandell and Alex Fulton has been expanded and reworked by Yandell into a string quartet, The Bewitching Hour, whose title and music suggest the astounding happenings of an unseen magical world that always disappears at daybreak. (Hear/Here)

In Ted Clifford’s multi-movement Introspection, a solo flutist improvising fluid textures while simultaneously moving through the performance space. (Hear Here)

Eugene composer/performer Alexander Schwarzkopf. Photo: Tom Reeves.

Eugene composer/performer Alexander Schwarzkopf. Photo: Tom Reeves.

Alexander Schwarzkopf, known for his piano performances of works by Falko Steinbach, performs his own Recycled Wheels, which explores cyclic elements of “sound wheels” composed of tri-chords, varied clusters of tones and tightly-woven melodic lines that are “recycled” throughout the piece, undergoing continuous variation à la Brahms-meets-avant-garde jazz improvisation. These different threads weave the opposing contours and rhythms into a dense, complex fabric. (Hear/Here)

Cascadia Composers is a non-profit membership chapter of NACUSA (National Association of Composers USA) based in Portland and dedicated to the promotion and support of regional composers. Cascadia has produced concerts, workshops, and presentations promoting new classical music by Northwest composers for eight years. Perceptions of Sound, like previous recent Cascadia concerts produced by Brugh, demonstrates the organization’s adaptive ability to create new ways of presenting the new music its members are composing.

Perceptions of Sound, Saturday, January 30, 7:30 p.m. First Christian Church, 1166 Oak Street, Eugene, Oregon. Tickets available at the door: $20 general admission; $10 seniors and working artists; $5 students.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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