chamber music amici

MusicWatch Weekly: updating traditions

Holiday happenings and more music on Oregon stages this week

It’s December, and time for the annual Battle of the Messiahs. This year, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed performances on period instruments seem to have vanquished all Portland pretenders, but fans of anachronistically modern instruments and oversized venues can still find their seasonal bliss in Eugene.

Other holiday choral concerts this year offer refreshingly diverse and modern music for the season, including Choral Arts Ensemble’s mostly 21st century show, Oregon Repertory Singers’ 20th century program, and Portland Chamber Orchestra’s multicultural menu. There’s actually some non-holiday oriented music too, and if you’d like to recommend other Oregon musical events to our readers, please avail yourself of the comments section, infra.

“(Music) for a Time and Space”
Portland-based interdisciplinary artist and composer Ben Glas’s exhibition, which opens Thursday, “explores intently ideas of spatial compositions, alternative modes of hearing and subjective sonic experiences as guided by tonal interactions in space.”
Thursday, Variform Gallery, Everett Station Lofts, Portland.

Korgy & Bass
Drummer/composer Barra Brown (Shook Twins, Ages and Ages, Barra Brown Quintet) and bassist/beatmaker Alex Meltzer’s (Coco Columbia, Two Planets) sample-based beat music definitely draws on jazz, but also takes into the 21st century by incorporating influences from house and other electronica and dance music.
Thursday, Bombs Away, Corvallis; Friday, Hi-Fi Lounge, Eugene; Saturday, Wonder Ballroom, Portland.

Even performed on anachronistic modern instruments by Eugene Symphony and Chorus, Handel’s glorious oratorio is a stirring experience, no matter how many times you’ve heard its famous tunes, including — hallelujah! — That One. There will be a harpsichord, though, manned by music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, who’ll direct the performance.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Each holiday season, various Portland groups stage Handel’s stirring Baroque masterpiece, and as always, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed version, played on authentic instruments and in tunings the composer would recognize, is the truest. Paul Agnew sings tenor and conducts PBO, a quartet of Juilliard-trained vocal soloists, and Portland’s own great choir, Cappella Romana. The first three performances are the full meal deal, and there’s a Monday performance of highlights only.
Friday through Monday, First Baptist Church, Portland.

Cappella Romana joins Portland Baroque Orchestra in Handel’s “Messiah.”

Choral Arts Ensemble
The choir goes beyond the usual recycling of tired holiday perennials to offer a broader, more modern musical appreciation of winter and the myth of the mother of God by by some of the finest late 20th/early 21st century choral composers: John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, and Stephen Chatman. The splendidly diverse program also includes Mexican and Spanish seasonal carols (including some devoted to the major Latin American holiday, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) and classic compositions by Baroque boss Antonio Vivaldi and Renaissance master Francisco Guerrero.
Friday-Saturday, St. Andrew Catholic Church, 806 NE Alberta St. Portland.

Portland Chamber Orchestra
Abetted by the excellent Portland Persian/Middle Eastern ensemble Shabava, PCO’s multicultural holiday show includes Kurdish, Spanish-Sephardic, French-Moroccan, Swedish and other music, which they’ve quilted into a single multifarious musical tapestry inspired by the structure of Handel’s Messiah. 
Friday, New Song Church, Portland, and Saturday, St. Anne’s Chapel Marylhurst University.

Northwest Community Gospel Choir sings with the Oregon Symphony.

Gospel Christmas
Oregon Symphony and Northwest Community Gospel Choir’s ever-popular annual show featuring holiday favorites usually sells out, so get your tickets pronto!
Friday-Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers
For four decades, the big choir’s annual Glory of Christmas concert has offered enough traditional tunes and singalongs to satisfy the purists while also including less frequently heard but no less enjoyable and intriguing modern music. Along with new and old carol arrangements, this year’s edition includes new music by America’s most esteemed living choral composer, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen and several 20th century masterpieces, by Benjamin Britten’s (the English composer’s beautiful A Ceremony of Carols), Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, portions of American composer Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs, and winter-themed songs by revered Estonian choral composer Veljo Tormis, who died earlier this year.
Friday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Portland.


Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car free, arts-stuffed weekend

Eugene offers arts lovers a walkable bazaar of music, theater, dance and more

Story, video and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

As the fall arts season opens, arts-loving Portlanders and other Oregonians seeking a relaxed, car-free weekend exploring dance, music, theater, and the visual arts can look 100 miles up river from Portland. Visitors arriving by train from Portland or points north will find most of Eugene’s cultural activities within walking distance of downtown lodging options — a healthy alternative to driving. If motor transportation is needed, the nationally award-winning LTD bus system and numerous taxi companies provide reliable travel about the city.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Amtrak Cascade train service makes rail passenger travel along the corridor between Eugene and Portland, with connections to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a comfortable coach or business class option for sitting back and watching the scenic Willamette valley roll by as sleek modern Spanish designed Talgo trains pass through a rural countryside not easily seen from the ever increasingly congested I-5 freeway.

The coming arts season offers some excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy an arts-saturated weekend in Eugene. Read on for a guide to venues, dining options, exhibitions, performances, and discover some historical architecture along the way.


Chamber Music Amici preview: A trio of trios

Three is better than four in concert of music by Brahms, Bernstein and Haydn.

“There’s a million string quartets,” David Bernstein says. “Why do I need to add another one?”

String quartets do seem to draw the lion’s share of chamber performances and commissions, and as flexible as they are — just ask Kronos Quartet, which plays just about anything imaginable — to Bernstein and others, they can’t match the smaller triple threat of piano, cello, violin. “I have been to many, many concerts that feature famous string quartet groups,” the St. Helens-based founder of Cascadia Composers says. “As a composer and listener, I find a piano trio to be a much more satisfying ensemble to listen to and write for. The piano offers a very compelling and powerful voice to the overall sound structure of the group. And yet it is very supporting of the strings as well. So you have the contrasting timbre, a huge range, and something that melts beautifully into the string timbre but is yet different enough from them. This is quite unlike a string quartet, at least for me. You have the best of everything with the piano as a foundation. And, perhaps unlike string quartets (although this depends on the piece) the violinist and cellist have a much greater musical and virtuoso role that they can play in a piano trio than many a string quartet that I know of.”

Bernstein was therefore thrilled to be asked to write a piano trio when the Gabrielli Trio came calling a few years ago. His trio, along with classics by Brahms and Haydn, heads the program performed by Chamber Music Amici at Springfield’s Wildish Theatre when the ensemble opens its sixth season on Monday, October 27.

Chamber Music Amici rehearses Bernstein's trio:  Kathryn Lucktenberg, violin, Steven Pologe, cello;  and Asya Gulua piano. Photo: Sharon Schuman.

Chamber Music Amici rehearses Bernstein’s trio: Kathryn Lucktenberg, violin; Steven Pologe, cello; and Asya Gulua,  piano. Photo: Sharon Schuman.

The first movement of Bernstein’s 1990 piano trio, Late Autumn Moods and Images, includes phrases from the Protestant hymn tune “Come Ye Thankful People Come,” while the second incorporates dance tunes from Jewish and Hebrew songs and dances. The third and final movements embrace a range of styles and techniques.

The program also includes one Haydn’s many sparkling trios, this one for two violins and cello, and Brahms’s first piano trio. “The op. 8 trio is a miracle of artistic integrity,” says ArtsWatch’s Jeff Winslow about a work published when Brahms was a young man and left untouched for 35 years. “He extensively revised it at the end of his life, bringing all his accumulated ability and judgement to it, but somehow he managed to retain its youthful inspiration.”

Founding Cascadia Composers president David Bernstein

The piano trio configuration floats founding Cascadia Composers president David Bernstein’s boat.

Amici artistic director Sharon Schuman says piano trios are as rewarding for audiences as they are for composers. “In trios there is nowhere to hide,” she explains. “The playing is very exposed. There are also times when duets take place, and different combinations of two instruments emerge, in the case of Bernstein and Brahms violin and cello, violin and piano, or cello and piano–with either instrument in the lead. Or any of the three instruments can have a solo–playing alone or with support from the others. Thus there are at least seven possibilities within the piano trio format.

“In the case of the Haydn trio for two violins and cello,” Schuman continues, “the possible combinations are different… it’s like a string quartet without viola. That means the cello gets to do a lot more, although there are also many duet moments for the two violins. It is always interesting as a listener in a live concert to watch these various combinations take place and look for who is leading.”

For Bernstein, the piano trio configuration will always be more appealing than that other famous chamber music format. “The first work I ever did was a string quartet but I never did another one,” he says. “I find the timbre of this group too homogeneous. And let’s face it, after Bartok’s six incredible quartets for this medium, I don’t think I or anyone else could add much. To me the piano trio is much more challenging and satisfying to write for. I finally got around to doing a second one. I would do a third one if the occasion arose.” Any piano-violin-cello threesomes out there seeking new Oregon music: give Bernstein a call.

Chamber Music Amici performs trios by David Bernstein, Johannes Brahms and Josef Haydn Monday at Springfield’s Wildish Theatre.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.


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.


Chamber Music Amici play Baroque music in Springfield Monday

If it’s Baroque music you crave, Eugene’s the place to be this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday at First Christian Church, the Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra lights up the candles and goes Baroque in their annual intimate concert of 18th century music, this time featuring a J.S. Bach cantata and appealing concerti by Vivaldi, Handel, and Locatelli. On Monday, Springfield’s excellent Chamber Music Amici (consisting mostly of present and former Eugene Symphony players and/or UO faculty members) play the famous trio sonata from Bach’s magnificent Musical Offering and delicious works by three other Baroque masters:Telemann, Rameau, and Leclair. Both concerts will feature modern players using historical practices and in some cases authentic bows and even instruments.

Also in Eugene, former NBC TV anchorman Tom Brokaw joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall Tuesday to narrate Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, part of an excellent all-American program that also features Copland’s The Promise of Living (from his opera, The Tender Land), William Schuman’s New England Triptych, and most impressively, John Adams’s  moving commemoration of the victims of the September 11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls. And the University Symphony plays music by the greatest of film composers, Bernard Herrmann on Sunday at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That Eugene Symphony concert is part of the orchestra’s multifaceted look at war and our responses to it. That’s also the theme of the Oregon Symphony’s new CD (review coming soon), which recorded last May’s program at the Schnitzer and Carnegie Hall. The concept continues this weekend at the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday and Sunday concerts (at Portland’s First Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater, respectively), featuring Samuel Barber’s powerful Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony #3, and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings — all composed in response to war or its approach.

Eugeneans and other Oregon Bach Festival patrons who enjoyed German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s performances this summer can see him take the solo spotlight in Sergey Prokofiev’s cello concerto-turned Symphony Concerto, composed for the great 20th century cellist Msistislav Rostropovich at the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland choral music fans face a difficult choice among very different yet all appealing programs. On Saturday, you could hear the great Cappella Romana perform the hellacious Byzantine liturgical drama The Service of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, at Northwest Portland’s St Mary’s Cathedral. Or you could soak in the sublime music of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Christopher Tye at Cantores in Ecclesia’s concert at St. Stephen’s church in SE Portland. Both are part of the Journey To Light festival comprising concerts, talks, tours and more, organized by an especially industrious high school student, Katherine Brafford.

Or, you could join Portland’s Consonare Chorale, with violinist Cecilia Archuleta and pianist Jon Stuber, in contemporary settings of great poetry by Emerson, Frost, cummings, Yeats and more by current (Joan Syzmko) and former (Morten Lauridsen) Portlanders, hot choral composer and model Eric Whitacre, and others — including Adam Steele, who can’t be there because he’ll be singing across town with Cappella Romana! Or catch Satori Men’s Chorus at Portland’s Old Church, singing music by composers from Burt Bacharach to Randall Thompson. All these concerts look intriguing, but you can only make one of them. The choral scene in Portland is that rich.

Portland’s Peace Choir starts the Saturday singing off at 5 pm with a concert at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, while The Julians, an all-star aggregation of female choristers from around the city, finish the weekend with Sunday afternoon’s concert at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish in downtown Portland. They bring their classically trained voices to music by Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bjork, Brahms, John Lennon and more, all focused on the differing gender perspectives on relationships.

Contemporary music fans with jazz tendencies (or vice versa) might check out composer Art Resnick’s bimusical concert at Portland’s Community Music Center. The first half features his contemporary post classical compositions, played by classical musicians including pianist Maria Choban, while the second showcases the pianist/composer’s jazz trio performing improvised music you’d expect from a musician who played with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Nat Adderley, and others. Proceeds benefit the valuable Cascadia Composers organization.

Chamber music aficionados in Portland can catch Portland State University’s great 35-year-old Florestan Trio and guests playing music by Dvorak, Mozart and Schumann, on Sunday afternoon at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Or the 5Tet woodwind quintet playing Brahms, a world premiere and more Saturday at Tigard’s United Methodist Church. Or violinists Tatiana Kolchanova and Mary Rowell playing Prokofiev, Bartok and more Sunday afternoon in First Presbyterian Church’s always attractive Celebration Works series, now celebrating its first decade. Alas, Portland Piano International’s recommended Monday recital by Roman Rabinovitch is sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to satisfy your classical music jones this weekend.

And if the choices are so paralyzing that you just want stay home, and you missed Lara Downes’s excellent set of newly written (by a baker’s dozen of contemporary composers) variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations  performed at Portland International Piano Festival this summer, Portland’s essential all classical radio station‘s unmissable Club Mod show will be playing Downes’s recently issued CD of that music Saturday night, along with music by the superb new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The shows are archived on the station website for two weeks.

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