chamber music northwest

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: 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.

Dracula
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.

Joe Kye, ARCO-PDX
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.

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American Brass Quintet review: elevating chamber music for brass

Venerable ensemble traces the trajectory of music for brass instruments from the distant past to the present to the future

Near the beginning of the American Brass Quintet’s concert in downtown Portland’s Winningstad Theater last week, trumpeter Kevin Cobb stood up and talked a bit about the group’s history, starting with their founding date: 1960. “If you’re looking on stage to see who’s the original member” — cue laughter— “there are no original members.”

The founding members “tried to bring brass music to places that would normally have, say, the Juilliard Quartet,” he said. Their goal was to “elevate brass chamber music.” One of the great commissioning brass quintets of our time, they are also dedicated to the “promotion of brass chamber music through education” (like Akropolis Reed Quintet last year, ABQ also put on educational outreach programs the week they were here). Part of this pedagogical endeavor means reaching back through time and drawing together the roots of brass chamber music, developing a long view of the genre and situating modern pieces in a living historical contexts. Their Portland concert, presented by Chamber Music Northwest and Portland5, managed to represent both ends of this spectrum (and a bit of the in-between for good measure).

American Brass Quintet

To open, the group leapt immediately into a bunch of 500-year-old Elizabethan and Jacobean Consort Music — fun and spirited and beautiful—and perfectly brief. Brass instruments, like strings and choirs (and unlike, say, reed quintets and percussion ensembles), are by nature delightfully homogenous, meaning they can blend all manner of complex counterpoint into a well-integrated acoustic gestalt. ABQ played short pieces by William Brade (1560-1630), John Dowland (1563-1626), John Wilbye (1574-1638), and a few by Thomas Morley (1557-1602). The counterpoint blended perfectly, separate lines shining through whenever I paid precise attention, everything blurring into a tasty musical porridge whenever I let my ears take in the larger soundscape.

Other moments, like the Dowland pavane, gave ABQ a chance to show off their balanced chorale sound, another strength of brass ensembles. At times the trumpets (if not the players) sounded like they were still warming up: brass instruments are insanely taxing and far more physically demanding than anyone who’s never had their lips on a mouthpiece can possibly imagine. By the time the Brade canzon’s joyously rapid hemiolas came along everyone was ripping through the tricky rhythms and rapid fire hunting calls like it was no big deal.

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Chamber Music Northwest review: back to Bach

After an unprecedented exploration of contemporary music, festival finale goes Bach to basics with the Brandenburg concertos

After five weeks of coffee talks and panel discussions, old new music, new new music, new old music, and old new music made new again, it was a relief to settle into familiar old Lincoln Hall for an evening of familiar old Johann Sebastian Bach. On July 30th, Chamber Music Northwest closed out its 47th season, gathering its motley cast of virtuosi for a well-balanced and thoroughly satisfying performance of all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

Before the music started, CMNW Artistic Director and clarinetist David Shifrin expressed his thanks to the performers, composers, audiences, donors, and sponsors, with “a very special thanks to J.S. Bach for organizing this program and gift-wrapping it for us.” Shifrin explained that the 20 musicians taking the stage that Sunday afternoon would be playing Bach’s music “just as he wrote it, except I will be playing the trumpet part on Eb clarinet, and the viola da gamba will be cello. We think he would like it this way.”

Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin (front right) played clarinet in one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. Photo: Tom Emerson.

I think we can make a case that: 1. Shifrin’s caveats notwithstanding, there are still deep aspects of this performance — intonation, instrument construction, venue acoustics, and so on — that are definitely not just as Bach wrote it; 2. That Bach’s music, like the plays of Shakespeare, seems to have some vital quality which allows it to be endlessly adapted and reinterpreted with what so far seems to be an inexhaustible variety of results.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Let there be dark

Music for the Great Eclipse, free at the museum, remembering Katherine Dunn, Brett Campbell's music picks, having babies & more

It might have come to your attention that six days from now, on Monday, August 21, the sun will be temporarily smitten from the sky across the nation, on a path from the Oregon Coast to Charleston, South Carolina. Here at ArtsWatch World Headquarters we had planned to ignore this astronomical anomaly, figuring you’d be hearing plenty about it elsewhere, until we received a note from All Classical Radio.

Wait! Put on your dark glasses!: Antoine Caron (French, 1521 – 1599), “Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers” (also known as “Astronomers Viewing an Eclipse”), 1570s, oil on panel. 36 1/2 × 28 3/8 inches, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The network’s seven Oregon outlets and internet stream, it seems, will be playing an Eclipse Soundtrack from 8 in the morning to noon on the Day of Darkness: little ditties ranging from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (you might recall it from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) to Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Debussy’s Claire de Lune, and more. The broadcast will hit a high note at 10:19 a.m. – when the eclipse hits totality in Oregon – with the world premiere of The Body of the Moon, a commissioned piece by Desmond Earley, performed by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, cellist Nancy Ives, percussionist Chris Whyte, and improv vocalist Erick Valle.

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Chamber Music Northwest reviews: independent women

Festival’s concerts and conversations with female composers highlights rich diversity of their approaches and their music 

“It’s so nice to see you all!” said Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director and clarinetist David Shifrin, introducing the July 13 concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium with a warm smile. “I’m possibly the only man on stage tonight!”

He was indeed, unless you count The Ghost of Ravel: four CMNW concerts at Reed College and Portland State University July 13-16 featured compositions written and performed by women. Later that evening, Shifrin would join composer and harpist Hannah Lash on her composition Form and Postlude and the piece to which it nods in both instrumentation and style, the Introduction et Allegro by man composer Maurice Ravel.

The Claremont Trio performed a piano trio by Fanny Mendelssohn and the world premiere of Kati Agócs’s ‘Queen of Hearts’ at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Night One paired: Kati Agócspiano trio Queen of Hearts with Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11, and Lash’s Form and Postlude for harp, flute, clarinet, and string quartet with Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro. The Claremont Trio, in their premiere season as CMNW Protégé Project Artists, tore their way through Mendelssohn’s liedisch final major work, violinist Emily Bruskin hopping out of her seat at especially dramatic moments, twin sister Julia agile and confident at her cello, while pianist Andrea Lam immersed herself in all the pianistic luxuriance. Agócs’ trio was considerably more modern, with roots in and nods to the musical heritage that comes with writing for piano trio.

Queen of Hearts Meets Queen of Harp

If the 20th-century classical world was about carving up the last of the dissonance and starting radical new schools of composition, the 21st-century classical world seems to be all about synthesis and syncretism, taking up the messy mantle of competing traditions and making something new and personal and beautiful out of it.

Kati Agócs fits right in there: her polystylism has been making waves all over the world for the last decade or so, from 2005’s Hymn for saxophone quartet and 2008’s Requiem Fragments to 2011’s Vessel, 2015’s Debrecen Passion, and last year’s Tantric Variations for string quartet. It would be easy enough to pigeonhole Agócs as yet another post-modern more-is-more composer, but what I hear is an artist with ravenous taste and the skills to match. Compared to her other work, which often includes texts in multiple languages, quotations from earlier composers, grand gestures for percussion, and so on, Queen of Hearts, performed at Chamber Music Northwest, seems positively conservative in its simple neo-Romantic splendour.

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‘The Other Mozart’ review: sister act 2

Sylvia Milo's one-sister show at Chamber Music Northwest gives Mozart's talented older sibling Nannerl, her music stifled by sexism, her own voice at last

Unlike the previous night’s Chamber Music Northwest music-theater combination, Ordo VirtutumSylvia Milo’s The Other Mozart, performed July 11 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, ran about 75 minutes with no intermission, and I doubt anyone in the audience felt shorted. It’s an audience-broadening treat to see the festival pursuing these mixed theater and music performances, as with last year’s festival’s Brahms/Muhlfeld show.

In truth, unlike Hildegard, there’s not a lot more to say about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sister Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl, at least not that would make interesting stage drama. (She’s been the subject of a film and novels.) That’s because even though she lived more than twice as long as her brother, we know far less about her life, and the patriarchal world she lived in never permitted equivalent opportunities to make it more interesting. Which is part of the point of Milo’s monodrama, which has been running off-Broadway and touring the world since 2014.

Sylvia Milo in ‘The Other Mozart.’

Engagingly narrated (in, for no discernible reason, German-accented English) by Nannerl herself, the story entertainingly tells (not whines) a tragic tale of a talented musician who at almost every turn is denied the opportunities her similarly skilled brother receives, merely because of her gender and her society’s invidious discrimination against it.

Even most classical music fans probably know little of the brat’s big sis beyond the fact that he wrote delightful duets for them to play on keyboards together, and that she was regarded in her time as an excellent player. In The Other Mozart, we learn much about Nannerl’s life from letters she saved  from family members, including her admiring brother himself, and reviews, some praising her youthful keyboard virtuosity. (Most of her own have disappeared — she was only a woman, after all.)

Milo’s narration in Nannerl’s persona gleefully captures the personalities of her brother, father, sister, and other characters she encounters, especially on the European tours arranged by their father Leopold for her and her brother, hoping to turn the performing pre-teen prodigies into money making attractions. Some considered her at least as talented a performer as her brother, who himself thought her the best performer of his keyboard music; she sometimes received top billing.

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