MusicWatch Weekly: scary sounds

Scary times deserve scary music in Oregon this week

There’s a lot to be afraid of these days, and this week’s Halloween and other concerts offer plenty of spooky music to suit the times.

Chamber Music Northwest brings America’s leading new music ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, back to Portland for an ideal Halloween spectacle: a live performance of venerable American composer Philip Glass’s 1999 score (with Glass himself playing keyboards) to the classic 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave. Portland.

The Korea-born, Seattle-raised composer/violinist/singer who moved to Portland from LA last year opened for Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland last February. Now electric classical band returns the favor in this release concert for Migrants, Kye’s second release, which ranges from pop to jazz and even a bit of rapping. Along with Kye’s looping violin and vocals, the show includes Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestra and Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, with whom Kye embarks on a world tour. Read Jamuna Chiarini’s story on the collaboration.
Friday,  Alberta Abbey, Portland.

Joe Kye opened for ARCO-PDX last February.

Naomi LaViolette
Portland classical fans know her as the longtime accompanist for Oregon Repertory Singers, but LaViolette is also a composer and  sincere, ‘70s style singer-songwriter who’s performed at PDX Jazz Festival, Doug Fir, and Jimmy Mak’s. She also written for ORS, some of whose singers join musicians from the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Repertory Singers and Grammy-wining oboist Nancy Rumbel in this CD release concert for her new CD, Written For You.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra
The tragedy of Orpheus, which is still being set by composers (Philip Glass did a recent version), has been part of opera since the very beginning — and this 1607 version by Claudio Monteverdi is among the first operas and the first Baroque masterpieces, though echoes of Renaissance music remain. This historically informed Pacific MusicWorks production led by Grammy-winning Seattle based early music master Stephen Stubbs should bring us as close to Monteverdi’s intentions as possible in a concert reading.
Friday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland.

Senju Matsunami
Accompanied by traditional dance and shakuhachi flute, venerable koto master plays classical Japanese tunes, adaptations of Western music, and more.
Saturday, Winningstad Theatre, Portland.


ArtsWatch Weekly: NEA battle, dancing with Rodin

Arts groups push back, a week of dance, a road dog warrior, concert tips, what's on stage

It’s been a busy week in the arts world. Nationally, as the New York Times reports, the new administration seems intent on moving forward with its plan to kill off the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, although it’s by no means certain that Congress would go along with it, and, as the Times reports, opposition is being mounted across the country. The endowments reach into virtually every congressional district, and that reflects a lot of votes. As the Times put it, “(E)ven if the arts get only crumbs, administrators said, they are crumbs worth fighting for: much-needed money that supports community projects, new works and making the arts accessible to people in different parts of the country and to those who are not wealthy. And after years of culture-war debates in which conservatives took aim at the programs, questioning their value, arts groups are pressing the case that the federal money they receive supports organizations — and jobs — in all 50 states, both red and blue.”



Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new “Swan Lake.” Photo: Randall Milstein

IN PORTLAND, MEANWHILE, it’s a dancey sort of week. Oregon Ballet Theatre has just opened Kevin Irving’s reimagined version of Swan Lake, with the focus shifted from Odette/Odile to Prince Siegfried; it continues with four performances Thursday-Saturday at Keller Auditorium. Look for Martha Ullman West’s review in ArtsWatch on Wednesday.


ARCO-PDX review: Recipe for rejuvenation?

In seeking younger, more diverse audiences, Portland ensemble's concert features amplification, memorization, and repetition -- but can't ensure rejuvenation


The Portland ensemble called ARCO-PDX (Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra) has given five performances since their first in July 2014, and with this article, all of them have been reviewed and discussed by this website. “Reviewed” because that’s what we do; “discussed” because ARCO raises new questions for the performance of so-called classical music.

Briefly put, ARCO plays new and old classical music on traditional instruments that are electrified and amplified. Violins, violas, and cellos have hookups like electric guitars; the “piano” is an electronic keyboard programmed to sound like a piano or harpsichord.

Beyond the amplification, ARCO uses other techniques from standard rock shows: colored moving lights, swirling fog, and in some instances images projected on a screen behind them. The goal of all these borrowings is to fuse the atmosphere of a pop music concert with classical music.

Leader and founder Mike Hsu, a very good violinist, encourages his fellow players to show the music in their posture and movements and facial expressions. Further, he urges them to memorize their music (as in a rock concert) to free them from a printed score and maximize their connection to the audience, who are in turn encouraged to dance, cheer, drink, and socialize while the music is playing. Hsu and the others speak of the thrill of getting a rock-concert style ovation (stamping, whistling, standing, cheering) after finishing a concerto by Handel, or even mini-ovations while the piece is playing.

ARCO’s overall hope is to expand the audience for classical music, from an aging group of grey-hairs to a younger, hipper cohort, and at their February 3 show at Portland club Holocene on Southeast Morrison, this strategy seemed to be working. Among a crowd of about a hundred, all of them with micro-brews or mixed drinks in hand, I spotted only four or five oldsters; the average age looked to be mid-thirties, with a good smattering of fans in their twenties.

The choice of a Friday night was purposeful: to avoid the standard Sunday afternoon slot beloved of classical music presenters. So was the choice of Holocene, a high-ceilinged club normally used for pop acts, rather than the usual concert hall or church setting.

Joe Kye opened for ARCO-PDX.

ARCO also began their show with an opening act, just as rock bands do. A young man named Joe Kye, a Korean-born American, played four songs of his own, strumming his violin like a ukulele to foot-controlled feedback loops, and adding his own gentle voice. In the four-minute first song the words “where are you?” and “why did you go?” turned up repeatedly. His second tune, at three minutes, incorporated the the melody to the Edith Piaf hit “La vie en rose.” After a perfunctory and brief third song, a fourth stated “I’ve made mistakes, so have you” against a background of four beats against five or six. At the end, Mr. Kye gave a short, kind, gentle little spiel about loving one another and that sort of thing.


Portland Taiko, Portland Baroque, collectif9: Home field advantage

Stellar local performers match the musical radiance of visiting stars

Artistic centers seem to go through phases. At the outset, they predominantly host performances by local amateurs. As more ambition and money arrive, they worshipfully import Big Names from artistic capitals, often neglecting homegrown talents who might be equally talented (and more original) in favor of the imprimatur of NYC cred — a sure sign of provincial insecurity. Sometimes, like my hometown of Austin, a city’s artistic culture develops to the extent that its local artists realize that they don’t need to move elsewhere to make vanguard art (not to mention a living), and in fact, the city becomes a magnet for others in the region and then the world.

Los Angeles's TaikoProject and Portland Taiko joined forces at the end of their joint concert, 'Sound in Motion.' Photo: Brian Sweeney.

Los Angeles’s TaikoProject and Portland Taiko joined forces in their joint concert, ‘Sound in Motion.’ Photo: Brian Sweeney.

Although some of Oregon’s artistic institutions and their insecure audiences still haven’t quite realized that many arts lovers are looking to us for inspiration than vice versa, Portland in particular and Oregon in general are reaching that third phase. A trio of autumn concerts involving both visiting and locally cultivated musicians showed the value of learning from outsiders — and also just how good our locavore music has become.


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.


Classical Revolution PDX / ARCO-PDX reviews: Recipe for Relevance

Portland indie classical institutions find broader audiences through innovative approaches.

Can classical music ever be hip? This month, two of Portland’s major indie classical subversives infiltrated a Portland indie pop haven with a pair of concerts that demonstrated that classical music can regain its mainstream cultural appeal — if it’s presented in 21st century context.

ARCO-PDX performed at Portland's Holocene in early August.

ARCO-PDX performed at Portland’s Holocene in early August.

Premised on the notion that classical music (and we must add, contemporary classical, although that distinction would have struck the vast majority of classical composers in history as unnecessary and even pernicious) is as universally appealing as it ever was except that the presentation is outdated for today’s audiences, ARCO-PDX’s announced goal is to bring rock and roll energy and production to classical music. In this third concert, performed earlier this month in Seattle, Eugene and Portland, it advanced farther toward that goal in some respects, but stalled in others.

The sound design seemed richer and more accurate to my ears than the group’s previous concerts at another indie rock club, Mississippi Studios and rawer party space, Refuge PDX, in Portland’s industrial inner east side. The group seems to have resolved most of the tuning issues that occasionally bugged me in their earlier shows. Provided by DB Amorin and Cymaspace, the visual effects seemed subtler and more sophisticated than I remember from earlier shows, and though it left the stage darker, it also complemented the performance rather than calling attention to the images. 


ARCO-PDX & Cascadia Composers review: Ready for Prime Time

Oregon classical music innovators' quality performances deserve broader audiences.

The house lights went down, the multicolored stage lights beamed psychedelic rays over the audience and the amps, the band hit the stage and launched into a big hit that featured a pair of shredding soloists, dueling away while the electric keyboard pumped up the volume and pushed the beat furiously forward. Even before the last notes faded, waves of whoops, rabid applause, and even a high pitched shriek or three erupted from the ecstatic audience.

ARCO-PDX also played this program at Seattle's Royal Room.

ARCO-PDX also played this program at Seattle’s Royal Room.

Just another night, another rock show at one of inner Southeast Portland’s gritty warehouses-turned-impromptu concert venues. Almost. The lights were colorful, the amplified instruments loud, the players mostly unrestrained, the audience entranced. But the opening hit with the two shredding soloists was actually a double cello concerto written centuries ago in Venice by Tony Vivaldi, the rock star of his time and place, and the band was composed of musicians who played in classical orchestras and ensembles.

Welcome to the future — or at least one future — of 21st century classical music. ARCO-PDX’s concert last weekend at Refuge PDX was only the second in its brief history, but it revealed a bold band and concept — playing classical music with rock amplification, lighting, and attitude — that’s ready for prime time.


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