clavecin en concert

Summer music survey: The Young and the Restless, pt. 1

Young ensembles spice summer shows.

It’s still officially summer for another few days, but what with the first evening chills, the advent of Portland’s TBA Festival, and school starting for many, it’s starting to feel a lot like summer’s end is nigh. But before the classical music season ramps up, it’s worth taking a quick look back at what’s traditionally been the slow season. As we approach the equinox, today we begin a three-part survey of some compelling concerts by young and otherwise un-stodgy performers and composers (from Chamber Music Northwest, Cascadia Composers, even the Oregon Symphony and more) that made the summer of ’14 a season of renewal in Oregon classical music.

Ethan Sperry led the combined Portland State Choirs.

Ethan Sperry led the combined Portland State choirs.

The summer rocketed off to an incendiary start with Portland State’s last student concert of the year, “Indigenous,” a June showcase for its choirs at Portland’s First Congregational Church that demonstrated the two most prominent qualities director Ethan Sperry has fostered: a wide range of choral sounds from across the globe, and a youthful energy that older choirs, however skilled, just can’t match. Chris Edwards, Lucy Yandle and Jason Sabino led enthusiastic performances by the University Choir of works from South Africa, the Philippines, China, Brazil and Sctoland, variously propelled by Xhosa and Brazilian percussion instruments, tambourines, and other metal percussion.

Still wobbly from a spill that morning, PSU’s Joan Szymko (a veteran Portland composer and conductor) led the school’s Vox Femina choir in her own music inspired by Native American songs and stories, plus music by the great contemporary Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. The sound was obscured but maybe the message’s urgency enhanced when one piece offering a prayer for the Earth was nearly blotted out by the racket of an evidently large internal combustion engine belching and idling outside the church’s open window for the entire length of the piece.

PSU’s Man Choir followed, the singers entering singing down the aisles, with more percussionists, vocal soloists arrayed in the corners of the balcony, and songs from Haiti, India, Scotland, and Korea — the last, Filipino-American conductor Sabino informed us, having an entire museum devoted to just that song. Local guest Indian percussionists (playing a mridangam drum and jaw harp) and an alto saxophonist joined the 200 singers of the combined choirs, with Sperry conducting from the center aisle, in music from India (including a selection by Ravi Shankar) and, appropriately given the size of the choir, Szymko’s “It Takes a Village.” The performance level was as high as the programming’s ambitions, and a few weeks later, the Portland State Chamber Choir won the first-place in Adult Mixed Choir category at the 16th International Choral Kathaumixw in Canada, then released its latest CD.

These aren’t your grandpa’s choral concerts; under Sperry’s global visionary leadership, PSU’s international award-winning choral programs are presenting some of Oregon’s most effervescent, enlightening and enjoyable musical performances.


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