MUSIC

MusicWatch Weekly: with a little help from their friends

Collaborations decorate Oregon concert stages this weekend

December is a terrible time to go on a diet. Look at last week’s MusicWatch, which relapsed into obesity after the previous week’s promise to slim down. Oregon just offers too many rich  musical treats this time of year. So we’re making a New Year’s resolution to make these previews more easily digestible.

Speaking of slimming down, how about a multi-course meal featuring a single entree? That’s what famed fiddler Christian Tetzlaff will deploy Saturday when he plays all of JS Bach’s magnificent solo partitas and sonatas for violin at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

Over at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge on Friday, San Francisco-based guitarist/ producer/ composer/ electronic musician Christopher Willits wraps you in his Envelop technology: an immersive, software-driven multi-speaker setup that allows you to experience the full spatial effects of his new ambient Horizon album. Willits has released over two dozen albums, worked with atmospheric musicians like Tycho and Ryuichi Sakamoto, created open source software to advance his sonic vision and even teaches meditation as well as enabling it through his ambient sounds.

Unlike Willits and Tetzlaff’s shows, many of this week’s concerts involve teamwork. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral welcomes lots of musical friends for Friday’s annual Christmas Concert & Wassail Party, featuring  Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon leading some of Portland’s top singers and members of the Oregon Symphony in Ottorino Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Benjamin Britten’s lovely Ceremony of Carols, music by Giovanni Gabrieli and John Rutter and more.

Enjoy holiday music and wassail at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Friday.

Cappella Romana’s holiday concert, A Byzantine Christmas: Sun of Justice, features early and contemporary Greek, Arabic and English seasonal sacred music chanted by some of the world’s finest performers of this mesmerizing repertoire, drawn from across North America, plus Lebanese star soloist John (Rassem) El Massih. They’re performing Thursday at Salem’s Blanchet High School, Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Sunday at Gresham’s St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, and on their new CD of this music.

Big Horn Brass’s always fun The Night Before Christmas Sunday afternoon at Mt. Hood Community College Theater this year brings the fine Portland blues singer LaRhonda Steele to join the band in its annual brassy renditions of holiday classics. And that same night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony’s Comfort and Joy program with its own new guest, Hillsboro’s revitalized Oregon Chorale, includes prime cuts from JS Bach’s Christmas Cantata, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and lots of familiar seasonal songs.

On Saturday, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus brings its “Most Wonderful Season” program to Eugene’s First United Methodist Church. The award-winning 150-voice chorus knows all about cultural oppression, so instead of focusing on a single religious tradition, this concert presents songs celebrating not only Christmas but other seasonal holidays including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and the New Year.

On Sunday afternoon at the Hult Center, the Eugene Symphony is the backing band for Cirque de la Symphonie, which combines colorful, spectacular acrobatics with seasonal classical music like those ever-ebullient dances from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, “Sleigh Ride,” and more.

On the jazzier side, a pair of Portland’s finest funky jazz institutions, Trio Subtonic and guitarist Dan Balmer, release their new collaborative CD at their show Saturday night at Portland’s Goodfoot, with help from Seattle jazz organ trio McTuff.

Another pair of popular Portland jazz masters, singers Rebecca Kilgore and Mia Nicholson, join forces tonight at Portland’s Jack London Revue. And Friday at McMenamins Mission Theater, guitarist Chance Hayden celebrates the half century anniversary of a famous album made before he was born: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

There’s so, so many more musical treats to feast on this winter week, but we’re on a diet! So you’ll just have to pack more musical nutrition into the comments section below, where it doesn’t count against our word limit.

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‘Messiah’ review: authentic surprise

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana’s historically informed performance of Handel’s masterpiece made the familiar sound new

By ALICE HARDESTY

I recently ushered at Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Dec. 8 performance of Handel’s Messiah at First Baptist Church in Portland. I looked forward to the music less for excitement than for its familiarity, since I had heard it many times before, both in concert and on the radio. But I was in for a surprise.

Cappella Romana sang ‘Messiah’ with Portland Baroque Orchestra.

This was the first time I had heard the Messiah with truly baroque instruments, techniques, and voices. I was just blown away. I’m sure that part of it was the skill with which PBO, Portland choir Cappella Romana, and three talented young soloists played and sang. But it was also because this historically informed performance displayed an authenticity that I hadn’t experienced before with this popular masterpiece.

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Christina & Michelle Naughton reviews: sister act

Portland Piano International brought identical twin virtuosos for two recitals, and they delivered performances as polished as their presentation

By ANGELA ALLEN & JEFF WINSLOW

Editor’s note: because the latest Portland Piano International production featured a pair of pianists performing a pair of a concerts, and sometimes using a pair of pianos, we decided to feature a pair of reviewers

I was privileged to hear 30 young virtuosos compete for the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano prize last summer in Fort Worth, Texas. Ranging from 19 to 30 years old, they played technically difficult, swooningly expressive pieces. Consider Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 and Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, two of the most performed during the festival.

Yet none, even winner Yekwon Sunwoo who opened the 40th Portland Piano International Solo season in October, impressed me as much as Michelle and Christina Naughton did Dec. 2 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. They played a second concert Dec. 3 featuring a different and equally demanding repertoire. (See Jeff Winslow’s review of that concert below.)

These identical twins, 28, graduates of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music, began piano lessons at four years old and played as single-piano musicians until a savvy producer suggested they try duets and four-hands pieces. That was 10 years ago. Now the two play as one. They are polished; they are pros. Wunderkinder they are, but practice they have — hours and hours a day for years and years.

Portland Piano International presented Christina and Michelle Naughton. Photo: John Rudoff.

During their two-hour performance, the team demonstrated clean technique, exacting timing, and bravery (or confidence) to incorporate into their repertoire challenging pieces, most notably Conlon Nancarrow’s Sonatina for four hands. Most of the maverick 20th century American composer‘s work was written for the player piano; humans can’t keep up with the rhythms.

And all of this without a sheet of music or an iPad to prompt.

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MusicWatch Weekly: updating traditions

Holiday happenings and more music on Oregon stages this week

It’s December, and time for the annual Battle of the Messiahs. This year, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed performances on period instruments seem to have vanquished all Portland pretenders, but fans of anachronistically modern instruments and oversized venues can still find their seasonal bliss in Eugene.

Other holiday choral concerts this year offer refreshingly diverse and modern music for the season, including Choral Arts Ensemble’s mostly 21st century show, Oregon Repertory Singers’ 20th century program, and Portland Chamber Orchestra’s multicultural menu. There’s actually some non-holiday oriented music too, and if you’d like to recommend other Oregon musical events to our readers, please avail yourself of the comments section, infra.

“(Music) for a Time and Space”
Portland-based interdisciplinary artist and composer Ben Glas’s exhibition, which opens Thursday, “explores intently ideas of spatial compositions, alternative modes of hearing and subjective sonic experiences as guided by tonal interactions in space.”
Thursday, Variform Gallery, Everett Station Lofts, Portland.

Korgy & Bass
Drummer/composer Barra Brown (Shook Twins, Ages and Ages, Barra Brown Quintet) and bassist/beatmaker Alex Meltzer’s (Coco Columbia, Two Planets) sample-based beat music definitely draws on jazz, but also takes into the 21st century by incorporating influences from house and other electronica and dance music.
Thursday, Bombs Away, Corvallis; Friday, Hi-Fi Lounge, Eugene; Saturday, Wonder Ballroom, Portland.

Messiah
Even performed on anachronistic modern instruments by Eugene Symphony and Chorus, Handel’s glorious oratorio is a stirring experience, no matter how many times you’ve heard its famous tunes, including — hallelujah! — That One. There will be a harpsichord, though, manned by music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, who’ll direct the performance.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Messiah
Each holiday season, various Portland groups stage Handel’s stirring Baroque masterpiece, and as always, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed version, played on authentic instruments and in tunings the composer would recognize, is the truest. Paul Agnew sings tenor and conducts PBO, a quartet of Juilliard-trained vocal soloists, and Portland’s own great choir, Cappella Romana. The first three performances are the full meal deal, and there’s a Monday performance of highlights only.
Friday through Monday, First Baptist Church, Portland.

Cappella Romana joins Portland Baroque Orchestra in Handel’s “Messiah.”

Choral Arts Ensemble
The choir goes beyond the usual recycling of tired holiday perennials to offer a broader, more modern musical appreciation of winter and the myth of the mother of God by by some of the finest late 20th/early 21st century choral composers: John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, and Stephen Chatman. The splendidly diverse program also includes Mexican and Spanish seasonal carols (including some devoted to the major Latin American holiday, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) and classic compositions by Baroque boss Antonio Vivaldi and Renaissance master Francisco Guerrero.
Friday-Saturday, St. Andrew Catholic Church, 806 NE Alberta St. Portland.

Portland Chamber Orchestra
Abetted by the excellent Portland Persian/Middle Eastern ensemble Shabava, PCO’s multicultural holiday show includes Kurdish, Spanish-Sephardic, French-Moroccan, Swedish and other music, which they’ve quilted into a single multifarious musical tapestry inspired by the structure of Handel’s Messiah. 
Friday, New Song Church, Portland, and Saturday, St. Anne’s Chapel Marylhurst University.

Northwest Community Gospel Choir sings with the Oregon Symphony.

Gospel Christmas
Oregon Symphony and Northwest Community Gospel Choir’s ever-popular annual show featuring holiday favorites usually sells out, so get your tickets pronto!
Friday-Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers
For four decades, the big choir’s annual Glory of Christmas concert has offered enough traditional tunes and singalongs to satisfy the purists while also including less frequently heard but no less enjoyable and intriguing modern music. Along with new and old carol arrangements, this year’s edition includes new music by America’s most esteemed living choral composer, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen and several 20th century masterpieces, by Benjamin Britten’s (the English composer’s beautiful A Ceremony of Carols), Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, portions of American composer Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs, and winter-themed songs by revered Estonian choral composer Veljo Tormis, who died earlier this year.
Friday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Portland.

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PSU Opera’s ‘Cinderella’: sweet and silly in the salon

University’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta is a fairy tale within a play, set to music

by ANGELA ALLEN

Cinderella is no stranger to the stage. Portland State University’s Cinderella is far from Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola or Jules Massenet’s 1899 version. Neither is it a by-the-book replica of the childhood fairy tale where a pretty downtrodden girl seeks her step-family’s love and that of a prince – and lucks out because the shoe fits!

Instead, Pauline Viardot’s 1904 Cinderella, an operetta not an opera, is a bit of a spoof on that fairy tale, a story within a story. PSU Opera’s production, which runs through Dec. 10 at Lincoln Studio Theater in PSU’s Lincoln Hall, is set in the flamboyant Viardot’s illustrious Parisian cultural salon.

Maeve Stier and Luke Smith sing a heartfelt duet in PSU’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta, “Cinderella.”

Viardot, by the way, was a real person, though relatively unknown for her musical work. She entertained such cultural heavyweights as Frederic Chopin, Clara Schumann and Henry James, and was the muse and likely lover of Ivan Turgenev.

Pauline Viardot

Sung in English, with translation by Rachel Harris, Viardot’s chamber operatta is intentionally light, frothy and funny. It has enough roles for this new crop of PSU singers to keep us amused through the 90-minute one-act performance, preceded by a salon-like “greeting” where the cast ushers the audience to their seats in the intimate, 84-seat Lincoln Studio Theater and chats up some of them. Viardot wrote the operetta to be performed by her students at her music salon, and PSU’s crew added a further warm-up of “opera charades,” musical chairs, a dance and songs by Viardot and other women composers of the time like Clara Schumann and Nadia Boulanger, as they might have at the salon.

Then “Madame Viardot” hands out parts to her students to perform her Cinderella. Viardot gives herself the Fairy Godmother role, and Megan Uhrinak, a graduate student, sings the part convincingly. Her solid acting and singing help to hold the show together.

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Cascadia Composers & Delgani Quartet: performance matters

Fall concerts show the value of prepared, skilled musicians to new music showcases

When it comes to covering music, ArtsWatch tends to focus on composition more than performance. That’s not only because two of our regular music writers are themselves composers, but also because we want to tell Oregonians the story of Oregon creativity, which is really part of the larger story of what makes us what we are here in the 21st century. It’s a main reason I created our Oregon ComposersWatch resource, to make it easier for ArtsWatch readers to hear the fruits of our homegrown musical creators. And thanks to Cascadia Composers and others, Oregon contemporary classical music is an increasingly rich bounty.

But just as there’s more to a play than a script, more to a dance than choreography, there’s more to music than a score. A couple of fall Cascadia concerts showed — in both positive and negative ways — just how important performers are to the story of Oregon originality.

Dazzling Delgani

While the preponderance of Cascadia music is created by composers living in the Portland metro area, the group’s October concerts at Eugene’s First Christian Church and southeast Portland’s Community Music Center happened to feature music written by non Portlanders and even non Oregonians. And so it was appropriate that the performers, too, hailed from beyond Portland. Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet turned in one of the finest performances I’ve ever experienced at a Cascadia concert.

Delgani String Quartet played music by Cascadia Composers in Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Some of the best Cascadia shows have relied on veteran ensembles (Portland Percussion Group, The Mousai, Choral Arts Ensemble) rather than pickup groups. That’s no surprise: you’d expect musicians that have been performing together for years to do a better job than those who might never have played together before, and who might have rehearsed together only a couple of times. The tradeoff for audiences, though: a program that features the same forces on every piece necessarily offers less instrumental variety. This one happily provided considerable stylistic variety to compensate.

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“Soror Mystica” review: breaking the frame

ParaTheatrical ReSearch's ritualistic production is and isn't a performance

My invite says “please arrive no later than 7:45” for this 8 pm performance, but when I walk into the intimate little performance space at 7:44 they’ve already started. Five dancers—four in all white (The Chaos Sisters, embodied by Memorie Eden, Maple Holmes, Lindsay Reich, and Faye Dylan) and one in fuligin with matching mask (Aether, incarnated by Bryan Smith)—sprawl around the floor, stretching their bodies, doing breathing exercises, probably meditating and visualizing red triangles and whatnot. I remember seeing Grotowski’s indelible name in connection with Antero Alli, perpetrator of tonight’s performance, and my mind goes to Artaud and Brecht. I realize that I’ve been played. When does the show start? Hey man, it never ended. I’ll bet they started warming up on the dance floor before they even opened the doors. We join our story already in progress.

“Soror Mystica” runs through Sunday night in Portland. Photo: A. Alli.

I take a seat, then another. My boots squeak, the floor creaks, I feel terrible for interrupting the performance. Oops, there goes that pesky frame. What performance? They’re just warming up. A static image of some kind of medieval amphitheater enlivens the screen behind the dancers, bracketed by bare branches hanging over candles on columns at the edge of the dance floor. Music that sounds more or less like Hildegard’s plays over the speakers. People trickle in. They keep silent. They prepare themselves physically and spiritually— as I have—for the Work, which is about to commence.

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