bang on a can

ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:



Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.


Preview: Maya Beiser: Uncovering Art Rock

The queen of new cello music reimagines rock classics.

“Rock music,” declared Isaac Stern, “is not music.” His protege, the teenaged Israeli cellist Maya Beiser, blanched. During one of their infrequent lessons back in the 1970s, she had innocently and excitedly asked the legendary violinist, who frequently visited Israel to support various educational projects, what he thought about Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel’s band Genesis, Jimi Hendrix and other rock musicians she was beginning to discover outside her classical music lessons.

Stern’s curt dismissal “was the prevailing notion in classical music” at the time, Beiser recalls. “I decided I was going to keep listening because this is what I love — but not talk about it” among her teachers and classical types. “It took me awhile to close that circle.”

Maya Beiser performs at Portland's TBA Festival Monday.

Maya Beiser performs at Portland’s TBA Festival Monday.

With this month’s release of her new album Uncovered, the 49-year-old “cello goddess” finally closes that circle, performing music by classic rock and blues stars like Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, King Crimson, AC/DC … and, yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Hendrix. On Monday at the Time-Based Arts Festival, with help from Bay Area guitarist/composer Gyan Riley and drummer Matt Kilmer, she’ll play some of those songs, along with the Oregon premieres of Wilco drummer and composer Glenn Kotche’s “Three Parts Wisdom” and David T. Little’s “Hellhound,” plus a new take on art/punk progenitor Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground classic, “Heroin” by her fellow Bang on a Can All Stars co-founder, Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang, and erstwhile Oregonian Michael Harrison’s Just Ancient Loops, performed with a film by Bill Morrison. The Portland Cello Project will also join her on some pieces.


Weekend MusicWatch: the mods of March

March comes in like a lion — one hungry for new music.


Two of these three composers will have music on Third Angle's program this weekend. Photo: Peter Serling

Two of these three composers will have music on Third Angle’s program this weekend. Photo: Peter Serling

The annual effusion of 20th- and 21st-century sounds that inundates Portland this month doesn’t commence for a week. Yet March is here, and Oregon is already awash in contemporary classical music sounds, demonstrating, like last March (which featured half a dozen modern but non-MMM shows, including a 21st century Philip Glass opera), that Oregon’s monthly new music bounty is just too rich to be confined to a single festival — or even a single city.

The major new music concert on tap this weekend is Third Angle New Music Ensemble‘s “When Michael Meets Julia,” completing the group’s (first?) survey of the music of Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe (this weekend) and David Lang (two seasons ago). The program includes a film, “Light is Calling,” by one-time Reedie and avant-film legend Bill Morrison (who concocted a similar masterpiece together with their celebrated “Decasia”), and music for combinations ranging from bagpipes to basses and more. As before, the composers themselves are here for the fun, speaking to classes at PSU, chipping in at rehearsals, and in general re-connecting Portland to country’s single most important single source of postclassical music.


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