cappella romana

ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

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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.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

‘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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MusicWatch Weekly: autumn bounty

This week's Oregon music highlights

In one of the peak weeks in the fall season of Oregon music, terling sopranos sing old and new songs, and other highlights include contemporary electronica, jazz, choral music, and sounds from Argentina, Mali, Japan, Europe, and beyond — including Oregon composers. Please add your recommendations in the comments section below.

BallakŽe Sissoko and Vincent Segal perform Tuesday at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Claude Gassian.

Julianne Baird and Marcia Hadjimarkos
The superb early music soprano and the acclaimed Portland-born pianist, long based in Europe, perform music from Jane Austen’s world. The immortal writer was also a musician who practiced pop tunes of her time on fortepiano (which Hadjimarkos will, appropriately, play here) daily before breakfast, and filled her room with sheet music and her books and letters with references to public and private music events. Along with music by Haydn, Handel, Gluck, and more, including female songwriters, the show features songs about country life, drinking, and love, plus Turkish and Moorish motifs, female character pieces, and songs about naval victories and the French Revolution. A pair of narrators interpolate readings from Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and more.
Wednesday, Hudson Hall, Willamette University, Salem.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performs Thursday in Portland.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Orcas Island native, now based in LA, has moved from the contemporary classical niche to broader acclaim and audiences in electronic music, including opening for Animal Collective and collaborating Suzanne Ciani. The synth-savvy sound sculptor is releasing three albums this year to go with five earlier releases, numerous film scores, and more.
Thursday, Doug Fir Lounge. Portland.

Eugene Symphony
When the rising young pianist Conrad Tao appeared at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2011, he was a 17-year-old prodigy who could seemingly almost play masterpieces with one hand tied behind his back. Having grown both a beard and a reputation as a solid performer and composer, he’ll almost get the chance in Maurice Ravel’s dramatic 1931 piano concerto written for the great Austrian virtuoso Paul Wittgenstein, who’d lost his right arm to a Russian bullet in World War I. He’ll also solo in Liszt’s wild, colorful 1838 Dance of Death (Totentanz), and the orchestra will play a Mozart symphony about which its composer wrote, “I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like.” He was talking about Parisians, not Oregonians, who’ll find plenty to enjoy in Mozart’s so-nicknamed Paris Symphony.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Marquis Hill’s Blacktet plays two shows in Portland.

Marquis Hill Blacktet
The 2014 Thelonious Monk competition winner earned further notice with his gig in Joe Lovano’s band, and the sweet toned trumpeter has become a fine bandleader himself with this group that integrates bop, hip hop and R&B. Two shows.
Thursday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Third Angle New Music & Tony Arnold
The Portland new music string quartet and New York new music soprano team up in music by the fine California composer Gabriela Lena Frank, colorful Australian composer Brett Dean, Greek-French composer Georges Aperghis, and midcentury Italian modernist Luciano Berio. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the same team’s Creative Academy of Music concert Saturday.
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. Portland.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
The plucky organization dedicated to cultivating 21st century music by Portland composers and improvisers celebrates its tenth anniversary with a a TED-style talk from Executive Director Douglas Detrick, silent auction with some really enticing offers, and three pieces of music that tell the PJCE story—by PJCE founding Executive Director Andrew Oliver, former Grasshoppers (the young composers mentored by established Portland jazz musicians via PJCE’s admirable program) mentee Andres Moreno, and the world premiere of a new piece by one of Portland’s busiest and most inventive musicians, drummer/composer/improviser Barra Brown.
Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

Sound of Late
The exciting Portland/Seattle ensemble gives the West Coast premieres of music by youngish British composer Anna Clyne (former composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony and other orchestras) and Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus works by by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Italian modernist Giacinto Scelsi, and the world premiere of a new piece by young Seattle composer Noel Kennon. The show is enhanced by video art by Seattle artist Stefan Gonzales.
Saturday, N.E.W. Expressive Works, Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: global vision

This week's Oregon music highlights feature music from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and beyond

While our leaders do their best to keep the rest of the world away, Oregon musicians and presenters are keeping the doors open through music. Got more musical suggestions? Please add them to the comments section below.

Seun Kuti brings Fela’s band to Star Theater Wednesday.

Seun Kuti & The Egypt 80
The youngest son of the great Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer embraced not only his father’s immensely powerful and danceable music and sharp-edged progressive political and anti corruption attitudes, but also even the remnants of his mighty band, Star 80, who comprise three-quarters of the current lineup. They’ll also play contemporary music by Seun and others.
Wednesday, Star Theater, Portland.

Schubert Ensemble 
For the final Oregon stop on its farewell tour, the London piano and strings quintet plays music by Shostakovich, Schumann, and their namesake.
Wednesday, Liberty Theatre, Astoria.

“Mozart Requiem”
Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana and Trinity Chamber Singers team up to perform one of the most moving musical obituaries ever written — Mozart’s final statement, a commission that turned into his own requiem. This is a rare and valuable opportunity to hear it performed on the instruments and in the style closest to what Mozart intended.  A pair of other popular Mozartean creations also decorate the program.
Thursday-Saturday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave. Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir join Cappella Romana in Mozart’s ‘Requiem.’

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
See AL Adams’s ArtsWatch preview.
Friday, The Old Church. Portland.

American Brass Quintet
In this Chamber Music Northwest/Portland5 show, the acclaimed trumpets-trombones-horn ensemble plays stirring music from 17th century England, 19th century Russia, 16th century Europe, and today’s tunes by leading American composer Joan Tower, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg and more.
Friday, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. Portland.

Raquy Danziger performs at The Shedd Friday.

Raquy Danziger
The Turkish composer/performer/teacher, a virtuosa on dumbek drum and 12-string Kemenche Tarhu spike fiddle, plays originals and music from Turkey and other Middle Eastern lands.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene.

BeauSoleil
Michael Doucet and his bubbly Lafayette-based band continue their decades-long exploration of Louisiana Cajun and zydeco music, often spiced with rock, country, bluegrass, even African influences.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Saturday, Alberta Rose Theater. Portland.

45th Parallel
The organization’s first chamber orchestra show features Oregon Symphony musicians in a pair of the 20th century’s most tuneful and scintillating ballet scores: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, plus Mozart’s lively ballet music from his opera Idomeneo.
Friday, Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, Portland.

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Sounds of Spain: borders and time

The Byrd Ensemble's concert of 16th century church music keeps the flame of a different culture, with resonances for our own

On Sunday afternoon, thanks to the Seattle choir The Byrd Ensemble, I crossed several borders without passport or visa or patdown by border patrols. The first was the entry to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Southeast Portland, where the Byrds, in a concert presented by Cappella Romana, were performing. The second was the border to Spain, the source of most of the music on the program, which was titled “Spanish Music for the House of Habsburg.” The third was time itself: For the afternoon I was in the embrace of the 16th and early 17th centuries, places attainable only through the fragmental collective memory of a learned culture.

The Byrd Ensemble: travelers in time.

The big attraction was Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Requiem Mass, a long, mournful, and revelatory work of imagination and restraint, which the ten-singer choir delivered with a lovely unity of sound: as with most top choirs, the group voice is closely calibrated and takes precedence over the individual voice. The classically proportioned St. Stephen’s has rich and lively acoustics, and the choir’s singing, with its crisp balances and full bass tones, seemed sometimes like the sonorous boom of a pipe organ filling the hall. After intermission the program continued with another short Victoria piece, a pair by his contemporary Cristóbal de Morales, one by Alonso Lobo, and a finale by the great, slightly older, Italian counter-reformation composer Palestrina.

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Arvo Pärt Festival review: Timeless and timely

Performances of leading contemporary composer's music bridge centuries and cultures

by JOHN PITMAN

Cappella Romana presented the first-ever festival in North America dedicated to the contemporary composer Arvo Pärt. The Estonian composer’s music is arguably the most performed of any living composer. It was a slight departure for Cappella Romana, best known for their performances of Byzantine, Russian and Greek Orthodox choral music.

The comprehensive festival in Portland gave audiences the chance to immerse themselves in many different aspects of Pärt’s music and his life. They featured a film, a lecture, and concerts of instrumental music as well as vocal works throughout the eight-day festival. I attended two of these concerts on the second weekend of this remarkable, and moving, celebration.

Cappella Romana sang music by Arvo Pärt at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Tom Emerson.

There is something about Pärt’s music that is at once powerful, yet also fragile, representing both extrovert and introvert. His music not only reflects the words of ancient texts, but also brings complex expression to the human experience. This is music that is both timeless and timely. One is able to become lost in the music, feeling as though they’ve entered a portal to a thousand years ago, and yet remain completely in touch with the current state of the world. Sunday’s concert at Reed College had this effect on me personally, with both vocal and instrumental pieces performed, but it was in Saturday’s performance at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on February 11 that I most intensely felt this phenomenon.

“Odes of Repentance”

Director Dr. Alexander Lingas did not present the music in the usual concert format, with applause expected between pieces, and an intermission, but in the form of a paraklesis, a service of prayer intended for the living. The absence of applause allowed the audience to focus intently on the music, which resonated beautifully throughout the cathedral. Pärt’s music was worthy of a space like this, as the “space” between notes and phrases is paramount to the composer’s unique voice. Much of Pärt’s music is based on his compositional principle which he called tintinnabuli (‘Little bells’), some of which is dependent on silence, but also on a reduction of materials to an essential level. That doesn’t mean the music is simplistic at all; it seems to invite the listener in so as to become a participant of sorts, rather than a passive observer, by focusing on the sounds as well as the space.

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