Oregon ArtsBitch

Black Violin review: black & white

At the classical/hip-hop duo's latest Portland shows, the action happened as much in the seats as on the stage


Commotion at the corner of my right eye. People standing in the rows of the concert hall. No, wait. Grey and white haired women pushing to get to the aisle. Eyes follow to…


Only a few feet away the aisle is bopping to Telemann-like riffs thumping from Black Violin. Playing the posh Schnitzer concert hall, full of older white classical music appreciators and younger African Americans, the classical violin-meets-hip-hop band returned to Portland to promote their album Stereotypes. And oh boy did the mosh pit break ‘em!

Black Violin performed at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

From the stage, violist Wil Baptiste exhorts me to “Put Your Hands Up and Wave Them Like THIS!” His partner, violinist Kev Marcus, nods appreciatively, in rhythm, continuing to plow through noodly passages perfectly in tune. Nat Stokes, Black Violin’s secret weapon on drums, builds a propulsive engaging and LOUD narrative under the flashy strings.

Meanwhile, DJ SPS turned this whole weird juxtaposition between straightahead rock-tight drumming and manic baroque strings into glass, dropping in today’s beats and disembodied vocals. Add columns of colored lights and a fog machine and you’d have to be dead or a snob to not giggle along with the infectious enthusiasm.


“From Piraeus to Portland”: Scenes, sounds and stories from a lost cosmopolis

Event commemorates the destruction of Smyrna, and celebrates the birth of the Greek Blues


America: The land many of us, our parents, grandparents, ancestors fled to or sought out, to start a new life. At my family’s restaurant, Greeks worked side-by-side with Japanese, Turks, Norwegians, Romanians, all of us striving for the American dream of owning a house, a car and shopping at Costco.

November 8, 2016: fear replaced hope for Mexicans, Syrians and others seeking a better life or fleeing death in their own fractured countries.

Smyrna: The cosmopolitan Turkish coastal city where a quarter million Turks, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Americans, Brits and others lived, worked and played side-by-side.

Smyrna's busy wharf during its multicultural heyday.

Smyrna’s busy wharf during its multicultural heyday.

September 9, 1922: The Nationalist Turkish army enters Smyrna, beginning an ethnic purge of half its population — the Christian half. Arson fires set on September 13 level the city and suburbs killing from 10,000 to 100,000 people. This in addition to thousands of Christians and other non-Muslims tortured, raped and killed by Turkish soldiers.

It took only two weeks to accomplish two things: 1. Eradicate the fairy tale cosmopolitan city that was Smyrna. 2. Eradicate “infidel Izmir” (how the Muslim Turks referred to Smyrna).

As part of a two-day event featuring music, film, and food from Asia Minor, this Friday, November 18 at Portland’s’ Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the Hellenic-American Cultural Center and Museum (HACCM) will show the movie Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City, which chronicles the years 1900 through the fire and evacuation in 1922. Released in 2012, the film tells the story of a 20th century horror that few Oregonians or Americans have even heard of, a story that has special timeliness at a moment when incoming American political leadership and some of its more rabid supporters advocate the kind of anti immigrant ethnic monoculture that helped lead to the flames of Smyrna a century ago. With refugees’ lives being sacrificed to geopolitics again, many in the same region, the tragedy of Smyrna offers both context and warning to us today.

The next day, November 19, the event showcases a happier cultural consequence of this catastrophe: a performance of a powerful music that emerged in its wake.


Glenn Frey’s Ghost

The Eagles leader has more to offer classical music than just an Oregon Symphony tribute


Knoxville Tennessee, June 1977. The Eagles are seven grueling months into an 11-month non-stop tour. They finish the concert and prepare for the encores. It’s bass player Randy Meisner’s turn to thrill the crowd with his massive hit “Take it to the Limit” from the Eagles fourth album, One of these Nights (1975). Meisner is miserable, suffering from stomach ulcers that are acting up, nervous about hitting the famously high notes in that song. He’s been lobbying to retire this song for awhile. This evening he stands up to Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles (along with Don Henley). He’s not going to sing the encore.

The Oregon Symphony pays tribute to Glenn Frey on Monday.

The Oregon Symphony pays tribute to Glenn Frey on Monday.

Frey, who has dealt with ulcerative colitis most of his life, wheels around to the shyest, most anxiety ridden beta-male in the Eagles and spits

[T]here’s thousands of people waiting for you to sing that song. You just can’t say “Fuck ’em, I don’t feel like it.” Do you think I like singing “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” every night? I’m tired of those songs. But there’s people in the audience who’ve been waiting YEARS to see us do those songs. (from Alison Ellison and Alex Gibney’s documentary “History of the Eagles, part one)

An asshole, no doubt. But he’s The People’s Asshole! Fighting for the right of the audience to get its hard earned money’s worth. Fighting to make their evening memorable.

This Monday, May 9, the Oregon Symphony honors Glenn Frey, who died last January, with a show of Eagles tunes. Like many pops concerts, this one will boost the bottom line for an orchestra that probably can’t survive without them. But Frey’s legacy has so much more to offer classical music than just one of those nights.


Minimalism & Millennials: Generation gap?

Minimalist music in Third Angle’s Reich-analia strikes one millennial musician as manipulative


Locational obliviousness combined with missing my first exit and leaving my apartment late due to compositional tunnel vision had me literally running up the stairs in the Montgomery Park Atrium on January 30 as Steve Reich’s Sextet began.

Heavy breaths and forced stillness; running to sit; momentum to dead-space; being on the very cusp of arriving late where every movement matters. Yet upon punctual arrival it all seems so pointless, which is coincidentally the feeling I arrived and left Third Angle’s Reich-analia with, originally due to my poor timing, but sustained by the music:

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anthis is not an idea. This is not an ithis is not an idea. This is not an idthis is not an idea. This is not an idethis is not an idea. This is not an idea. This is not an idea.

I’m sorry, let me clarify my thoughts on long-term phasing as a compositional tool. Or as eminent classical music scholar Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music and other books, said of Reich’s contemporary Philip Glass’s five hour opera Einstein on the Beach: “it’s basic behavior-modification therapy, and so far from spontaneous or liberating, it is calculated authoritarian manipulation. I find it sinister. . .”

Third Angle New Music brought So Percussion to Portland to play music by Steve Reich.

Third Angle New Music brought So Percussion to Portland to play music by Steve Reich.

It’s this mechanical nature of strict minimalist ideas that fails to differentiate the early Minimalist movement from that of Modernism. Sure, the harmonic language had changed, but the same insipid relation to human existence outside of rhythmic patterns or various serialization schemes is the predominant aesthetic feature of both. The Modernists had their twelve-tone rows, mathematics, and cold Stochastic practices, while the Minimalists had their mathematical development of rhythmic motives producing phasing, and obsession with these pattern cycles at the expense of listenability and emotional impact. Life is more than patterns, twelve-tone rows and clever justifications for breaking the rules, jobs, school, social expectations, and all that stupid shit.


The Arc of ARCO

Portland band ARCO-PDX’s rise and fall and rise offers lessons for classical music success


I’m at 10th and SE Morrison in southeast Portland – check.

It’s 6:45pm – check

There’s a line stretching down the block — wha??

I recognize none of the usual suspects. Am I at the right show?

I ask the 40-something couple at the end of the line if this is the ARCO show.


Me: “How do you know ARCO?”

Him: “We don’t. We’re from out of town and we heard that Holocene is a great venue.”

Holy cow, people actually go out and take a chance on shows based on the reputation of the curating venue. Do they realize ARCO is a classical music band? That I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of the group across three shows in two years? Two years ago, ARCO hit the scene with a brazen formula and a “Take No Prisoners!” attitude. They were the bomb. Over the course of the next two shows they abandoned some key original ingredients and suffered.

ARCO-PDX. Photo: Gary Stallsworth.

ARCO-PDX. Photo: Gary Stallsworth.

I’m here at the group’s fourth show nervously betting on a Hollywood hit: ARCO: The Return of the Magic. I’m also here spying patterns — between ARCO’s hits and misses, between concerts filled with hooked newbies or sadly empty space — and sharing that information because…well…I too want to fill my shows with this audience.


Fertile Ground review: Welcome to the Night Side

Smart creative team makes "The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" an entertaining ride


Riddle: Who’s in charge of Night Side? That shady town full of werewolves and vampires, creeps and ghouls accessible from our “normal” world only by wily private eyes like Dex Dixon, Manix Marloe and Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker?

Answer: Why, Frank, the ventriloquist benevolent puppet dictator.

That revelation comes early in Stumptown Stages’ dizzily entertaining new musical about an aging paranormal private eye, premiering at Portland’s Brunish theater as part of Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival. “Filled with puns, guns, vixens, vamps, monsters, music, and mayhem,” the debut run ends today, Sunday, January 31.

Our guide to Night Side, Dex Dixon, is played by Steve Coker, who also wrote the book for The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick, designed the scenes, shared the task of writing the music and lyrics with K.J. McElrath, acted the part. He is also the artistic director of Stage Works Ink. If that isn’t enough to get him elected mayor of Portland then I’m stumped!

But Coker is only part of an exceptional creative team whose combined efforts made Dex Dixon one of Fertile Ground’s most captivating shows.

Ilya Torres-Garner and Steve Coker in "The Adventures of Dex Dixon." Photo: Mike Lindberg.

Ilya Torres-Garner and Steve Coker in “The Adventures of Dex Dixon.” Photo: Mike Lindberg.

Jaime Langton’s witty choreography flowed seamlessly between those with less dance experience like the Vamps (cute little foot twists in “Surrender”) and Dixon and his trusty sidekick werewolf, Lobo (some sweet soft shoe in “Old Dog, New Tricks”) to the veteran dancer playing Nelly, the dangerous dame who sizzles in “Frisk Me, Dex.” More than just well thought out dance steps was the caricature imparted to the dancers and dances. Sydney Weir’s Nelly captured the pretzeled bodied zombie I’ve never seen in a zombie flick but completely believed. Weir isn’t just a clean crisp dancer, she’s a physical actor imbuing Langton’s choreography with over-the-top personality. She crossed and uncrossed her dangerous-dame legs sleazier than Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. And I mean this in a good way. Two more dance reasons to get you to this show: “The Brainsucker Tango” and the the monster mash between the Weres and the Zombies in “Dex in Danger.”

DD uses a live jazz club quartet prominently displayed visually and aurally. And aural is where the show breaks down. I sat on both sides of the stage and missed about half the lines and even more of the lyrics. Mixing is only partly the reason. A muffled dull speaker system the other. I don’t recall this being an issue in the last musical I saw in this space, or maybe I was so bored by the banal lyrics I tuned out. Dex Dixon, however, is predicated on delicious “Danger Dame At Work” (by Paul Muller) pulp-poetry and puns. Care needs to be given to the audience experience: Are we ALL catching every one of those lines, asides, lyrics?


fEARnoMUSIC review: Incomplete conversation

Portland new music ensemble's concert of homegrown Oregon music doesn't always connect with broad audiences


On my drive home from my first new music concert of the year, there was a bad accident on the 5, and with my own family’s experience of death and suicide weighing on me from this past year, I started considering my motivations to spend this next year – and this review – expounding on the importance of new music. We already have plenty of notated organizational schemes of how to produce sounds traditionally considered pleasing, so why bother with the new?

It’s not that somehow living composers recognize logical inconsistencies with the works of the past, quite the opposite really, and have deemed it their life’s work to fix historical music. New music isn’t about what’s logical; in fact great art is often overtly about what’s illogical: it’s about forgetting to check your blind spot on the 5 and totaling your car, fracturing your skull on a casual hike from a falling rock, or receiving a phone call at work about how your distant uncle who never reconciled with the family stuck a gun to his chest.

So, why new music? Further, why new local music? With all the chaos that could/has/will happen with yet another new year, why do we bother ourselves with such petty considerations as organized rhythm and pitch, and why do we care where the composers live?

Voglar Belgique, Payne and Ives performed a pair of piano trios by Oregon composers.

Voglar Belgique, Payne and Ives performed a pair of piano trios by Oregon composers.

Exactly because of the chaos that makes music seem so petty! New music and our constant return to new music, despite natural chaos-driven tragedies or the cold calculated tragedies of man, stands as a constant reminder of our humanity, and while these conditions exist everywhere, we don’t live just anywhere. We live here, the Pacific Northwest, where when the sky is clear I can see Mt. Hood from Salem, the determined can ski and surf in a single day, craft coffee and beer are a way of life, and we have an ever-growing new music scene. Bach is like an overheard conversation, beautiful and engaging, but, me being neither German nor dead, it was never meant for me!

The power of new local music is that we are the intended audience, and while I didn’t love everything about fEARnoMUSIC‘s second annual Locally Sourced Sounds concert last Friday, I was glad for the conversation — but hope that fEARnoMUSIC will eventually extended the conversation past those already engaged with new music. 


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