classical revolution pcx


Emilyi Poltorak's Alpha Beta will be performed at Classical Revolution PDX's Muse:Forward salon on Sunday.

Emyli Poltorak’s Alpha Beta will be performed at Muse:Forward on Sunday.


We are cursed to live in interesting times. Last year Portland witnessed a pretty dramatic growth spurt in successful informal accessible (yet high quality) local contemporary classical music events spurred on by local composers through organizations like ClassicalRevolutionPDX and Piano!PushPlay! Severe growing pains ensued, from a few members of the traditional classical music community within CRPDX becoming enraged to the point of a near-coup which ultimately resulted in a complete board-of-directors turnover, to suffocatingly huge crowds in performing spaces not designed for such.

The nearly ousted executive director of CRPDX, Christopher Corbell, himself a composer, found a neat solution. In early 2014 he created another organization, Muse:Forward, to continue nurturing the community of burgeoning composers/music creatives and the performers who wanted to hear and play their works, to defuse the anger of the CRPDX traditionalists and to alleviate the crowding at one of its monthly classical jam venues, northeast Portland cafe The Waypost.

Finally, an unobstructed open mic chamber-music-jam setting for music created by local living Portlanders, M:F differs from formal presenters such as Cascadia Composers or Third Angle New Music’s “New Ideas in Music” event because it happens monthly and it is not curated. Anyone can participate provided their thumb- or mud-wrestling skills can muscle them onto the stage.

Going beyond the parameters (whatever those are) of classical music (whatever that is), Corbell is inviting “more cross-fertilization among experimentalists, composers, improvisers, sound designers, electronic music makers and other performing artists.” This mash-up debuts at The Waypost, on Sunday, May 18 at 7 pm. Of course those like me who want to just listen, talk with the creators and performers, quaff a beer or two and eat carnitas tacos are also welcome.

The first hour will feature music by composers John Berendzen, a four time winner of Portland Drama Critics’ Circle awards for sound design who’s composed music for Portland’s Liminal Performance Group, and Emyli Poltorak, the young Portland State student star whose angry Alpha Beta was one of the highlights at Cascadia Composers Crazy Jane concert last November. The rest of the night is a free-for-all open mic, reserved for newly created local music, followed (or preceded) by audience/creator/performer kibbitzing.



Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne

Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne.

There are people who really like the mathematically determined music of the 20th century Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis—more than just acknowledging its undeniable historical importance. There are also people, I am told, who enjoy being rolfed, walking barefoot across hot coals, participating in fight clubs, and being lashed by whips. I think these all must be the same people.

Enduring the relentless pummeling of the Portland premiere of Xenakis’s 1978 exercise in dissonance Ikhoor at Sunday night’s closing March Music Moderne, just after enjoying so many other concerts featuring young (and sometimes not-so-young) Oregon composers at the same festival revealed just how far midcentury modernism that MMM celebrates strayed from appealing to a broad audience — and how Oregon composers are leading the way in bringing music in the classical tradition back to its rightful, central place in the hearts and minds of anyone who loves music, not just the dwindling niche who dig discordance.


Christopher Corbell's music is on tap at The Waypost Sunday night.

Christopher Corbell’s music is on tap at The Waypost Sunday night.

Since its founding in San Francisco in 2006, Classical Revolution has been best known for putting old music in clubs and cafes, but the plucky Portland chapter has also increasingly emphasizing contemporary sounds, especially in its annual composition competition. Since taking the helm at Classical Revolution PDX earlier this year, Portland composer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist Christopher Corbell has upped the already energetic organization’s activity level, adding a couple of monthly chamber jams to the always-packed original Sunday night fiesta at the northeast Portland cafe The Waypost, and intensifying the organization’s connection to contemporary music by encouraging participants to bring 21st century music to the party. These days, it’s not unusual for much or most of a jam to be devoted to new, original music, much of it born in Oregon.

Part of that new thrust is CRPDX’s new, annual showcase, Cult of Orpheus, an evening devoted to the works of a single Oregon composer. Sunday’s inaugural concert at the Waypost features Corbell’s own chamber music for voices and instruments, and those voices include some of Portland’s finest, soprano Catherine Olson (so impressive in her work with Northwest New Music), mezzo Hannah Penn (likewise with Portland Opera), tenor Justin Meyer (of Resonance Ensemble and Britain’s Academy of Ancient Music), and baritone Benjamin Bell (Opera Theater Oregon). They’ll sing Corbell’s settings of texts from the Dhammapada, Rilke, Millay, Catullus, Baudelaire, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hopkins. Other Oregon classical music presenters, including Cascadia Composers and Celebration Works, have sponsored such single-local-composer shows recently; let’s hope more follow suit.

Also on Sunday, at northwest Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the annual summer William Byrd Festival continues with its new music director, English organist Mark Williams, playing organ music by composers who span the centuries, including Sweelinck, J.S. Bach, Herbert Howells and more.

And Sunday night at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland’s Pearl District, jazz fans can welcome the return of one of Oregon’s top new musical stars, composer/singer/ bassist Esperanza Spalding, while also boosting the educational organization that has benefited the triple Grammy winner and many other Portland musicians: Portland jazz master Thara Memory’s American Music Program. Sponsored by PDXJazz, this 3rd Annual benefit concert also includes another of its prominent alumnae, rising young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, plus Portland singers LaRhonda Steele, Andy Stokes and Tahirah Memory. The show benefits a worthy cause: AMP’s Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra has won national renown for educating young people, grades 7-12, in American classic jazz. Last spring, the AMP orchestra won second prize in the Conglomerate Big Band division at the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey, California. Spalding’s fame has taken her beyond Oregon, to the White House and more, but as her Grammy winning song, “City of Roses,” and appearances like this one attest, she hasn’t forgotten her hometown, or her old teacher.

Portuguese cellist Jed Barahal, who performed last year with Springfield’s Chamber Music Amcici, is back at Oakland’s MarsAmmne Landing Saturday night with fellow Portungese musicians Ana Barros (soprano) and pianist Christina Margotto to perform works by Brazilian composers Claudio Santoro and Heitor Villa-Lobos and Portuguese composers Antonio Pinho Vargas and Fernando Lapa. Advance reservations, obtainable at, are required.

Eugene's Kef plays Festival Romani Saturday.

Eugene’s Kef plays Festival Romani Saturday.

This weekend again offers the chance to avoid the difficult choice between outdoor experiences and musical adventures. For a little longer, at least, we Oregonians can have it all. Saturday’s all-day Festival Romani in southeast Portland’s Sellwood Riverfront Park offers a panoply of gypsy-tinged sounds from Middle Eastern band and belly dancers Ritim Egzotik to gypsy brass from Eugene’s Kef and many other local and visiting bands and dancers, tracing the ethnic group’s musical migrations from their origins in India through Eastern and southern Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Along with the music, there’s dance galore, both onstage and in the audience. And you can bring the kids!

On Sunday, Beaverton Symphony conductor Travis Hatton leads Portland Festival Symphony‘s long-running summer series, this time at Peninsula Park, in music by Aaron Copland, the great Brazilian jazz/bossa nova composser Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Leroy Anderson.

The Britt Festival’s classical music under the stars is always a highlight of Oregon summer, and Sunday’s pops concert features more Bernstein, plus fine works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Enesco, and music from films and musicals, including an arrangement of movie themes by Oregon Symphony pops conductor and composer Jeff Tyzik, and the fun young flute-cello-bass threesome Project Trio.

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