MusicWatch Weekly: The Art of Song

Music that crosses arbitrary categories combats holiday food comas on Oregon stages this weekend

The cure for the blues is gratitude, and this is the weekend we often focus on how much most of us have to be grateful for — including the astonishing variety of live music that regularly graces Oregon stages year-round. Why, we’re even lucky to be treated occasional upswells of so-called “art song,” a valuable musical genre too rarely heard these days — except in Oregon, with new music by composers like Christopher Corbell, Paul Safar and ArtsWatch’s own Jeff Winslow and many others. The 20th century’s glorious noise of pop music, going back to Irving Berlin (whose life and music are being celebrated this season at Portland Center Stage), largely displaced, in mainstream culture at least, music more shaped by poetry than pop hooks, although the supposed categories (and that pretentious name) were always pretty arbitrary anyway, as Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize maybe suggests. Who’s to say the best pop isn’t at least as artful as some of, say, Samuel Barber or Claude Debussy’s songs? This otherwise musically malnourished weekend offers splendid opportunities to check out art song concerts in Portland and Eugene, along with more boundary crossing music for cellos, multimedia, and more. Please add further recommendations to the comments section below, and happy food coma to those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy one.

Portland Cello Project celebrates its 10th anniversary Friday. Photo: Jason Quigley.

Portland Cello Project celebrates its 10th anniversary Friday. Photo: Jason Quigley.

Portland Cello Project
November 25
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.
The all-cello ensemble that covers everything from Beethoven to contemporary hip hop celebrates is 10th anniversary with new music composed by Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives, Portland jazz star Farnell Newton, and more.

Polyphonic: A Series of Interdisciplinary Performances
November 26
Compliance Division, 625 NW Everett St #101, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of this multi-media showcase featuring music, dance and more by JP Jenkins and Danielle Ross, Mike Gamble + Movers, DB Amorin and Claire Barrera.

Oregon Symphony
November 26-7
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.
While conductor Jeff Tyzik includes enough chestnuts to create comforting familiarity, the orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops concert with Pacific Youth Choir presents a pretty interesting collection of holiday music that doesn’t just recycle the overfamiliar standards.

Rebecca Sack and Evan Paul
November 26
Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette St, Eugene.
The second in a new monthly series of intimate afternoon concerts founded by Eugene soprano Laura Wayte features art songs by the great contemporary American composers Ned Rorem and Libby Larsen, Debussy, Brahms, and Orlando Gibbons, with texts by Walt Whitman, Calamity Jane, and more.

Northwest Art Song's Arwen Myer and Laura Beckel Thoreson show that art song doesn't have to be serious at Portland's Waypost Sunday.

Northwest Art Song’s Arwen Myer and Laura Beckel Thoreson show that art song doesn’t have to be serious at Portland’s Waypost Sunday.

Northwest Art Song
November 27
The Waypost, 3120 N Williams Ave, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of this fun early evening show of contemporary cabaret music by William Bolcomb, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten and more, performed by the group devoted to advancing the art of art song.

Oregon Bach Collegium
November 27
United Lutheran Church, 22nd and Washington Streets, Eugene.
More art song, from a time when false distinctions between popular and artsy music weren’t so pronounced. This afternoon concert features three historically informed musicians (singer Sarah Benzinger, Baroque trombonist Bodie Pfost, and organist Margret Gries) playing rarely performed music from the grand old 17th-18th century Hapsburg Empire.

MMM master Bob Priest

MMM master Bob Priest

Messiaen MĂ©lange de Musique
November 26-December 5
Various locations, physical and virtual, Portland.
The former March Music Moderne has moved, for the nonce, to December, to coincide with the Oregon Symphony’s performances of the biggest music of one of its patron saints: Olivier Messiaen’s massive Turangalila symphony. Some of it appears on the air or the internet, in broadcasts on (Nov. 28), XRAY FM, and All Classical Radio 89.9. The November 28 performance on KBOO’s cabinet of wonders, A Different Nature, cohosted by irrepressible MMMpresario Bob Priest, features music by Henryk Gorecki, Jonathan Harvey, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the world premiere performance of the Messiaen Remix Project, which Priest commissioned from contemporary composers (Portland radio host/composers Andy Hosch and Robert McBride, Californa’s Antonio Celaya and Canada’s James Harley), plus music by Seattle’s Stuart Dempster, Portland’s Bob Collier, Joseph Bertolozzi, Mauricio Kagel and more. Portland music journalist Robert Ham will also host a MMM-good midnight program with Priest on November 26, which can be heard on XRAY-FM starting at 91.1 or 107.1 FM in the Portland metro area, or at The live performances begin December 2, and we’ll tell you about them next week.

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One Response.

  1. bob priest says:

    Thanx for the wonderful coverage, Brett.
    I’m particularly excited by how such diverse radio stations are – dare i say it – stepping up to the mic for MMMessiaen!

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