dover quartet

MusicWatch Weekly: community spirit

Musical highlights around Oregon this week

This week’s Oregon music highlights feature several concerts devoted to bringing communities together and celebrating various heritages that help make up the larger community that we all belong to. Please add your suggested music events in the comments section below.

Leyla McCalla performs at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall Saturday.

“In a Landscape”
Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to eastern Oregon. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances through September 30.
Wednesday, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 22267 OR Highway 86, Baker City; Thursday, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, 47106 Wildhorse Blvd. Pendleton.

Eugene Symphony
The orchestra performs a recent work by contemporary Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas, and Joyce Yang solos in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 before the orchestra unless that pinnacle of Russian Romanticism, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Music for Everyone Day
A wide variety of musicians, including the Woolen Men, Skull Diver, Ashi, JoJoScott and more, supply the tunes in this free, family-friendly four hour celebration.
Friday, Portland City Hall.

The Gondoliers
Light Opera of Portland’s latest Gilbert & Sullivan show.
Friday-Sunday, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

The Dover Quartet performs in Ashland. Photo:Tom Emerson.

Dover Quartet
The Chamber Music Northwest favorites return to Oregon to play quartets by contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour, Tchaikovsky, and Bartók.
Friday, Southern Oregon University Recital Hall, Ashland.

The Broken Consort
One of the most potentially exciting additions to Oregon’s music scene, this early music ensemble recently relocated from Boston and New York to Portland. Their repertoire ranges far beyond the too-limited scope of the state’s other historically informed performers, including new music (they just recorded an album of originals by leader and singer Emily Lau), and this concert focuses on American baroque music. Yes, there was such a thing. People were making music in the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. The eight musicians, who hail from Portland, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond, sing and play music written in the New England colonies (by composers like the great William Billings and Francis Hopkinson), in Spanish colonial America, shape note hymns, and even 19th century songs by Stephen Foster. But they’ll also perform music for ngoni, the instrument brought by African slaves, Native American chants and more, including the west coast premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s 2016 Green Field of Amerikay. It’s the fall’s most fascinating concert.
Saturday, Nordia House, and Sunday, The Hallowed Halls, Portland.

Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival
The fifth annual celebration of a true Oregon original and legendary Native American jazz saxophonist includes Tracy Lee Nelson, Winona LaDuke, Gary Ogan, and more. And if you’re interested in Pepper’s life and work, check out Organic Listening Club’s latest edition at Artists Repertory Theater on October 17.
Saturday, Parkrose High School, Portland.

Taiko Together
If you live outside Japan and enjoy the stirring sounds of Japanese percussion music, or just like whacking on big drums,  Portland is the place to be. This concert brings together all four of the city’s taiko ensembles — Portland Taiko, Takohachi, En Taiko, and Unit Souzou — in a celebration of some of the world’s most, ah, striking sounds. It’s a fine opportunity to sample the different varieties available too, from youth-oriented classes to traditional tunes to folk dance to new music and more.
Saturday, P.C.C. Sylvania, Performing Arts Center.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

The Vanport Mosaic and Maxville Heritage
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s fascinating new project kicks off with a free performance featuring music performed by singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Ezra Weiss, featuring Weiss’s song with lyrics by Renee Mitchell, inspired by the story of Maxville. This afternoon discussion event includes presentations about Maxville and Vanport, followed by a talk with the artistic creators, who are hoping to receive input from the community itself for this important multimedia community history project.
Saturday, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland.

Leyla McCalla
Former Carolina Chocolate Drop cellist/singer/guitarist/banjoist Leyla McCalla’s music draws on her Haitian heritage as well as the Creole, Cajun, jazz and French influences that still simmer in and around her New Orleans home. McCalla’s covers of traditional song and sometimes poignant, sometimes danceable, expertly crafted original music reflect the vitality of the many rich folk traditions she’s assimilated.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, Portland.

Organized by NYC’s Bang on a Can new music collective and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the four-year-old OneBeat program brings young (age 19-35) musicians from around the world to collaboratively create original music, play it on tour, lead workshops with local young audiences, and “develop strategies for arts-based social engagement” when they return to their home countries. This year’s fellows include South African vocalist Nonku Phiri; Aisaana Omorova, a komuz (traditional three-stringed strummed instrument) player from Kyrgyzstan; Chicago-based producer Elijah Jamal; and Belorussian producer and singer Natalia Kuznetskaya. The program has come to Sisters, Portland and elsewhere around the nation in years past; see it now before our current rulers find out about this effort to increase intercultural understanding.
Saturday, The Belfry, Sisters.


Chamber Music Northwest review: Brahms re-invigorated

Ambitious theater and music performance reveals an inspired composer, but an uninspired story


Editor’s note: Chamber Music Northwest’s new production,  “An Unlikely Muse: Brahms and Mühlfeld,” received its premiere at this summer’s festival before going on tour. ArtsWatch sent two writers to cover it, one from a musical perspective, the other a theatrical one. They came away with different impressions.

Even at the height of his fame, Johannes Brahms was an unusually private person. He rarely made public statements aside from his music, and towards the end of his life he burned piles of letters his family and closest friends had sent him over the years, even asking for his own letters back. (This was long before copiers, let alone e-mail.) In contrast, his rival, composer and dramatist Richard Wagner, left a torrent of text about his life and ideas, including some the world could have happily done without. Still, Brahms’s life had its portentous if not operatic moments.

The Dover Quartet joined actor Jack Gilpin, clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Yevgeny Yontov at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

The Dover Quartet joined clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Yevgeny Yontov at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

One moment music lovers can be especially grateful for was his meeting with the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld in 1891, shortly after the composer had decided to retire. He was so taken with Mühlfeld’s artistry that he began calling him Miss Clarinet (Fräulein Klarinette), possibly in wistful memory of times spent squiring various attractive young female singers around Viennese society. That artistry got Brahms composing again, not only writing four meaty chamber works featuring clarinet, but also no fewer than 20 piano solo works, many that would become audience favorites.

No car chases or vampires in sight, but this story of creative renewal is pretty dramatic as classical composers’ lives go, and it was probably irresistible to David Shifrin, who is not only Chamber Music Northwest’s artistic director but also an internationally renowned clarinetist. CMNW teamed with playwright Harry Clark, actor Jack Gilpin, and director Troy Hollar to create a cross between a concert and a play, a one-man show with live music. As a composer who’s been in awe of Brahms for 40 years, I found it fascinating, although I naturally focused much more on its music than its modest drama.


Chamber Music Northwest reviews: Unspoiled by success

Where does a composer go after reaching the peak of popularity? Two concerts trace Beethoven's path from excellence to exploration


Ludwig van Beethoven’s extraordinary fame rests mostly on works he wrote in his mid- to late 30s. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you probably know parts of his third (“Heroic”) and fifth (da-da-da-DAH) symphonies. If you are, you undoubtedly know his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, his violin concerto, and his last two piano concertos. String quartet lovers have his three “Razumovsky” quartets, informally named after the generous patron who commissioned them. They’re the only string quartets in the pantheon, but they fully measure up to their fellow icons.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet, Chamber Music Northwest Protégé Project Artists just a few years ago, have since catapulted themselves toward a different pantheon after sweeping the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, winning First Prize and all three Special Prizes. Who better to bring Portland audiences Beethoven’s mid period string quartet masterpieces, as they did at CMNW’s July 11 concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium? They showed such mastery that even a critic could just relax and luxuriate in Beethoven’s endlessly inventive music.


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.


Chamber Music Northwest review: Category-busting Collaboration

Musicians Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and George Meyer lit up the string-fired pyrotechnics in Chamber Music Northwest’s “In Motion” performance.


If any dance company avoids the obvious, it’s Portland’s 17-year-old imaginative and ultra-flexible BodyVox, which cannot be wedged into any genre or box, no matter how big and bendable the container. Ballet? Modern? Jazz? Full-stage projected videos? Computer graphics as backdrops? Opera collaborators? Wacky. Whimsical. The innovative company’s technically solid members make just about any move in a mix of styles, and make you laugh at their clever movement as they unfold, unlock and untangle. In what has evolved into a Portland starry summer tradition and star-spangled collaboration, BodyVox paired up with Chamber Music Northwest over the Fourth of July weekend.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Edgar Meyer, George Meyer, and Mike Marshall performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.


CMNW’s headliner, double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, also remains un-boxable. If there’s one category to squeeze him into, it might be that mostly wild indefinable mix of Americana. But Meyer’s range is huge: bluegrass with Bela Fleck, Bulgarian folk dances, toe-tapping duets, Appalachian tunes with Yo-Yo Ma, Bach, of course, and his own work, of which several pieces were performed for this collaboration. Meyer occasionally accompanies James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks – and teaches at London’s Royal Academy of Music and the Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Also, he plays the piano.

Completing the circle of this collaboration, Curtis is the Dover Quartet members’ alma mater, where cellist Peter Wiley mentored the group. The quartet and Wiley accompanied dancers in the first part of the performance. Joining Meyer were worldwide mandolin maestro Mike Marshall, who plays with astonishingly fast fingers the entire family of mandolins, including the mandola (and the guitar) and Edgar Meyer’s talented, suited-up Harvard-student son, George, on violin, viola and mandolin.

The best of the show was “Leave the Light On,” a long piece choreographed by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland. It was broken into several parts signaled by Meyer’s compositions: “Short Trip Home,” “Dance Music” (co-composed by Marshall and George Meyer), “Sliding Down,” “Indecision” and “1B,” each arranged for the three musicians’ array of stringed instruments. Dancers flew on and off the stage wearing unmatched, slightly disarrayed half-tutus (guys in white shirts), making jokes on traditional ballet positions and lifts, sweeping one another up in gender-blendering, breaking all the rules. The background blipped with childlike computer-driven graphics and words (including a glowing porch light, blinking bugs, word-drops of rain). Leaning into his bass with an easy-going but sure-footed possessiveness, shirt sleeves rolled up, Meyer led the musicians’ combination of first-class skill and playfulness that matched BodyVox’s.

he performance’s first part featured a mix of pieces shared by BodyVox dancers and the fast-rising, tautly playing Dover Quartet musicians (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, cellist Camden Shaw, and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt).

Cellist Peter Wiley opened the show with  J.S. Bach’s melancholy Prelude from Suite No. 2 in D Minor, accompanied by his dancing daughter, Dona Wiley, a member of New York-based CelloPointe. Their lonely, tender duet was a far distance in mood from the concluding exuberance of “Leave the Light On.”

Meyer and Marshall also played July 3 at CMNW’s sold-out performance at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium. As Edgar Meyer, a 2002 MacArthur award-winner, expressed in several different ways throughout the show – a performance that could have easily been staged at the Aladdin Theater or the Schnitz for its wide entertainment appeal— “tonight is about more playing and less talking.”

They concentrated on blending alarmingly well on numerous instruments, sometimes sounding like an entire string section. The musicians engage – tipping on their toes, reaching into one another’s harmonic and physical space – in intimate heartbeat-rousing musical conversations that cross age and genre barriers.  Many of the pieces were, as Meyer quipped, “mercifully untitled. We specialize in not naming songs.” No names, no boxes: these Chamber Music Northwest collaborations defy category.

Second and third shows are 8 p.m. July 5 and 4 p.m. July 6 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. For information and tickets call 503-294-6400 or email:

Angela Allen, a Portland writer, covers jazz, opera and other arts. This spring she taught creative writing at Rosa Parks Elementary in north Portland. In August, she’ll receive her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry/Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.    

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Gabriel Kahane

Gabriel Kahane: Is this the new face of classical music?


What’s the difference between a songwriter and a composer? It’s one of those perennial questions that mostly does a good job of running up bar tabs. But a few points are pretty safe to make – “songwriters” are supposed to be practical and unpretentious, while “composers” are supposed to be able to write for any occasion, particularly grand ones. Ever since Gershwin blasted through the traditional confines of the former to take his rightful place among the latter, the world of American music in particular has been peopled by esthetically cosmopolitan figures who wear the public face of the songwriter, but whose best work has the satisfying depth associated with the epithet “composer.”

At the same time, almost in a parallel universe, the dominant faction of those who wore that term unquestioned went off chasing the wild geese of novelty and theoretical perfection, leaving audiences in a dust of strange noises and set theory, much of which smelled suspiciously like goose poop. True, it was far from a fruitless chase. The dust is settling, and many intriguing beauties once thought unapproachable are emerging into view. And composers have mostly backed off, finding their way back to their audiences, sometimes with completely unexpected trophies in tow (e.g. minimalism). But not many have thought to look over into that other universe for inspiration.

There is a cadre of young composers today who are doing their utmost to change that. One of the most prominent is Gabriel Kahane, who made a big splash in 2007 with his breezy song cycle “Craigslistlieder,” humorously setting “lyrics” extracted from the venerable on-line bulletin board. On Wednesday night a goodly crowd settled into the Alberta Rose theater to hear him perform several of his more recent songs, aided by Chamber Music Northwest’s energetic protégé group, the Dover Quartet, which was formed by students at the Curtis Institute of Music a year after “Craigslistlieder” was released.

In the second half, they attempted to revive a nearly 200-year-old concert format, in which lighter works were heard between the movements of the major works of the evening. In this case, the major work was Beethoven’s middle Razumovsky quartet, op. 59 #2. I’m skeptical whether Beethoven would have approved of the practice for this particular piece, and as might be expected it didn’t always work, but the results were mostly highly enjoyable.


Violinist Joel Link and the Dover Quartet joined steel pan virtuoso Andy Akiho at Chamber Music Northwest.

Violinist Joel Link and the Dover Quartet joined steel pan virtuoso Andy Akiho at Chamber Music Northwest.

Anyone checking out the audiences (and occasionally ambulances) at Chamber Music Northwest has reason to worry about its enthusiastic but aging audience – and its sometimes-faltering veteran performers. Too often in recent years, performances by CMNW’s regulars have seemed rough and under-rehearsed, with the regular stable of New York-based classical musicians perhaps riding too much on their long relationship with Portland fans and their starry names that seem to garner ritual standing Os, no matter how occasionally shaky the playing. As accomplished as these performers are, they still need to rehearse to achieve more than superficial competence and chemistry.

Note: some of the material here appeared in an earlier News & Notes post, which we’ve updated to include new reviews and provocations, and separated for easier reading.

To be fair, the touring ensembles CMNW brings in during the festival and in its non-summer series are usually much sharper. Clarinetist and artistic director David Shifrin’s incisive playing seems as sturdy as ever. And in the first weekend’s concerts, CMNW regulars showed that they’re capable of gripping performances, in duos by Kodaly and Ravel, especially in the latter, which featured that ever-genial ambassador of new (and often not-so-genial) music, the great cellist Fred Sherry and the exuberant young violinist Yura Lee, whose striking orange dress and flopping bangs made her resemble an aquatic anemone, swaying in the current while persuasively surging through Ravel’s sonata.

But even though the festival still offers occasional-to-frequent delights, as some recent concerts have demonstrated,  CMNW has clearly recognized the need for revitalization. Can those efforts succeed in helping the festival reach the new audiences it will need when its current one is gone?


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