eugene opera

MusicWatch bi-Weekly: holiday traditions

Oregon serenades 2017 to an end — and none too soon — with Celtic, French, Spanish, Indian and more music from across the globe and the centuries

While everyone hunkers down for the holidays, the music plays on, but not nearly as often as usual, so MusicWatch is taking the rest of the year off as part of its musical fasting treatment for 2017’s overindulgence in Oregon’s musical overabundance. Meanwhile, here’s a few solstice-brighteners to take us through the end of the year.

In Mulieribus

Tickets have long been sold out for Wednesday’s “Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Gloria,” a historically informed performance of a pair of Italian baroque classics by the period instrument performers (from Portland Baroque Orchestra and others in the region) presented by Northwest Baroque Masterworks at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, but click the link above and see if someone cancels. One of the best shows of every holiday season, though, In Mulieribus’s annual concert, does have seats available. On Wednesday at Vancouver’s Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater and on Friday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the sublime Portland women’s vocal ensemble this time takes a French twist, with medieval carols, nativity songs and other music from the Renaissance and earlier by Binchois, Dufay, England’s John Taverner, and more.

Another annual Oregon holiday tradition, if a five-year run can qualify for that status, comes to a close Friday when Mark O’Connor and his 2017 Grammy winning musical family band bring their final Appalachian Christmas show to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives, who wrote about it for ArtsWatch last year, returns, and another family, the Seattle (O’Connor’s hometown) trumpet and piano team of Allen and Laura Vizzutti open for the multi-Grammy award winner who may be the world’s greatest fiddler, who’s played with many of the planet’s finest musicians and again brings his Americana-tinged holiday tunes to Oregon one last time.

Speaking of Americana holidays, Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays seasonal tunes at Portland’s luminous Festival of Lights at the gorgeous Grotto on Saturday. Lots of other bands and choirs are performing there throughout the holidays, so click the link to check ‘em out.

ArtsWatch has covered this combined music and theater event elsewhere, but here’s another reminder to catch the merry pianist and Liberace channeler David Saffert with Jillian Snow Harris in A Liberace & Liza Christmas at Portland’s Coho Theater December 21-30, with guest artists including singer Susannah Mars, star thespian Isaac Lamb, and more.

Next week at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s annual day after-Christmas concert takes a mostly Spanish turn with music Enrique Granados adapted from his piano pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings, Goyescas; Albeniz’s musical depiction of Seville’s famous Corpus Christi Day procession, and some of the finest ballet music of the 20th century, a suite from Manuel de Falla’s colorful The Three Cornered Hat. An unrelated bonus: music from John Williams’s score to the reptilian screen classic Parque Jurassic. 

On December 30-31 at Portland’s Community Music Center, another annual holiday music tradition, Oregon Renaissance Band’s holiday concert, goes all Celtic, with a baker’s dozen specialists on wonderful archaic instruments like sackbutts, viola da gamba, cornamusen, krummhorns, racketts, tartold, bagpipes, spinettino, tabor, and even early recorders and violins playing and singing ancient tunes by Turlough O’Carolan, William Byrd, John Playford, Thomas Weelkes and more.

South India’s Carnatic tradition is just as venerable as all these European early music shows, and Oregon is fortunate to boast a family of musicians whose lineage on the beautiful, ancient long-necked veena lute stretches back eleven generations. Renowned India born veena virtuosi Sreevidhya Chandramouli and Chandramouli Narayanan join their sons Kapila and Sushruta Chandramouli and ghatam (clay pot) percussion master Ravi Balasubramanian December 30 for a Carnatic classical concert at Portland’s Christ United Methodist Church.

The Oregon Symphony plays music from Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

On December 30 and New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, “Pink Martini New Year’s Extravaganza” returns with Portland’s own retro-Latin-Euro big band’s annual joint venture with the Oregon Symphony, now expanded to three performances, but tickets remain for only the last, late night bash. Along with orchestra-enhanced hits from throughout Pink Martini’s career and recent CD Je Dis Oui!, the Oregon Symphony will perform the glorious final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #9.

For a smaller scale NYE, catch Portland’s venerable Florestan Trio, 41 years old and counting, as they precede a champagne and dessert reception with an hour of chamber music classics by Franck (from his famous violin sonata, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Falla and more at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

The Christmas myth is many things, but one of them involves a resurrection story, which should resonate with fans of Eugene Opera, which just arose from its most recent near-death experience. Its New Year’s Eve opera buffa, Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville, also has some here-and-now resonance, with its story of a powerful older man trying to coerce a much younger woman into an abusive relationship. Eugene Opera’s cast mixes a pair of Met vets (baritone Malcolm MacKenzie and mezzo Heather Johnson) with local stars Jake Gardner, Bill Hulings, recent arrival Craig Phillips (the New York Polyphony singer now at the UO) and more, all conducted by Andrew Bisantz, who’s added the title of artistic director to his EO portfolio. Maybe the triumph of true love over sexual predation will get 2018 off to a better start than the year it’s replacing.

After some post holiday dieting, the slimmer, sleeker MusicWatch will return in 2018, and don’t worry, in the meantime, ArtsWatch will have a few other music stories to tingle your ears as we bid a pffft! farewell to a troubled year. Meanwhile, here’s a new video from Oregon singer Marti Mendenhall to put you in the holiday mood.

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

Music Notes

Wrapping up recent news in Oregon music

Every so often, when the live music schedule slacks off a bit, we wrap up news in various provinces of Oregon’s vibrant music scene. Many of the items originally appeared on ArtsWatch’s Facebook page, which you should follow to keep up with the happenings in Oregon arts and ArtsWatch.

Laurels

The Portland State University Chamber Choir, which has been featured often in these news wraps and elsewhere on ArtsWatch, continues to bring the state international acclaim. Last month, it became the first American choir ever to compete in Asia’s largest choral festival, the Bali International Choral Festival, which featured over 100 choirs. And it won the Grand Prix. The Chamber Choir won two categories: Music of Religions and Gospels & Spirituals, earning the highest score in the entire festival for the latter.

According to PSU’s press release, during the ten day trip, the Chamber Choir toured cultural sites, visited a program to alleviate poverty and sang at a charity concert to raise money for homeless youth. The choir also joined two Indonesian choirs to sing opera chorus at a gala for Catharina Leimena, Indonesia’s first opera star. The group also apparently spontaneously rehearsed one of its pieces in the Shanghai Airport, drawing international attention.

This is the second international competition that the Chamber Choir has won in recent years. In 2013 they were the first American choir to win the Grand Prix at the Seghizzi International Competition for Choral Singing, held in Italy.

Ethan Sperry and PSU Chamber Choir won the big prize at the Bali International Choral Festival.

Last week, the choir released its new CD, The Doors of Heaven, which immediately landed  at #1 on Amazon Classical, #1 on iTunes Classical, and debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical chart — the first university choir to chart. It’s the first recording made by an American choir exclusively devoted to the music of one of the world’s hottest choral composers, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds. We’ll be telling you more about it before the choir’s November CD release concerts in Portland.

Sperry was just named recipient of the first Portland Professorship, a new program that allows donors to name and fund termed PSU faculty positions.The first Portland Professorship position was recently created with a gift from longtime major PSU donor Robert Stoll of the Stoll Berne law firm.

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Music News & Notes: Operatic evolutions

Opera transitions, jazz laurels, music education, and other news in Oregon music

We went months without rounding up Oregon music news before last month’s N&N — and now, so much keeps happening that we need to do it again! Remember that we often slip news about Oregon music in Bob Hicks’s weekly newsletter and on our Facebook page, and we’re always looking for news about Oregon arts to share with our readers, so please keep us posted.

Opera Theater Oregon’s next stage

Opera Theater Oregon Producing Artistic Director Katie Taylor announced that she’s tossing the keys to the next generation of Oregon upstart opera makers: a collective including composers Justin Ralls and Anne Polyakov, baritone Nicholas Meyer and new music advocate Lisa Lipton. OTO Music Director Erica Melton and Film Director Jen Wechsler will remain with the company. Taylor approached Ralls about assuming leadership of the Portland indie opera company’s during development of an upcoming OTO production of his opera, Two Yosemites, opening this summer.

Meyer (l) and Ralls at a Portland preview recital for Ralls’s upcoming opera, ‘Two Yosemites,’ co-produced by Opera Theater Oregon.

The new leaders intend to “step up to meet the demands of reinvigorating opera in today’s artistic climate,” their press announcement declares. “With fresh ideas, relevant social commentary, and a love of accessible chamber music these new provocateurs plan to make their first opera with OTO a new and engaging experience geared to make an impact. Their first performance will feature a new outdoor opera in late summer. Look out for their newsletters, updates, and performance dates in the next few weeks.”

The transition marks the next step in OTO’s evolution since its 2005 founding by Angela Niederloh and Amy Russell. Under Taylor’s two terms of leadership (2006 to 2011 and 2015–17), the company enlivened the Portland music scene by producing or co-sponsoring visionary, often playful productions of both classic and new operas, often with inventive arrangements and scripts by Taylor (who’ll now turn to finishing up a book and short experimental opers in progress) and Melton. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more information on OTO’s new direction. With relatively new arrivals Cult of Orpheus, Ping & Woof, Opera on Tap, Opera Wildwood Concert Series, and (as we’ve noted in previous stories) new directions for Portland State University’s opera program, Eugene Opera (see below) and Portland Opera, it’s an exciting time for Oregon opera.

Grant prize winner

The national Jazz Journalist Association has named Portland pianist, composer, and professor Darrell Grant as one of its 2017 Jazz Heroes, an award given to people who further the art form of jazz in their communities. Longtime Portland jazz writer Lynn Darroch will present Grant with the award at the Portland Art Museum on April 30 — International Jazz Day. The event includes PDX Jazz’s Incredible Journey of Jazz program and a performance by Grant’s MJ New Quartet, which is touring the Northwest this month.

Pianist and composer Darrell Grant.

Q&A

Speaking of one of Oregon’s most valuable musicians, you can read a fascinating interview with Grant in Chamber Music America magazine. And there’s another informative new interview with a Portland composer, Dan Senn, in asymmetry music magazine, which will particularly interest fans of the influential Fluxus movement of the 1960s. And while we’re linking to good stories about Oregon music, check out long-time Portland classical music writer James Bash’s comprehensive overview of places to catch classical music for little or no cost — a welcome antidote to a problem ArtsWatch has long bemoaned.

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Music News & Notes

Catching up with recent news in Oregon classical music

Note: this post has been updated after news of the passing of one of America’s great musicians.

We’re usually so busy previewing and reviewing performances that we rarely have time to catch up on other news in Oregon classical music. So as winter turns to spring, here’s a roundup of a few comings and goings of important figures on the scene, honors, and opportunities. If you have more news you’d like us to consider sharing with ArtsWatch readers, please let us know.

Steven Zopfi conducted Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett’s oratorio, ‘A Child of Our Time.’

Transitions

Scott Showalter

• Whither Showalter? **Updated**
The biggest news in classical music so far this year is yesterday’s sudden departure of Los Angeles Philharmonic’s already legendary Deborah Borda for the New York Philharmonic, which she ran in the 1990s. Why is this news in Oregon? Because current Oregon Symphony president Scott Showalter’s previous job was Vice President for Development of the LA Phil, following stints as Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development of the University of Chicago, and Associate Dean for External Relations of Stanford Law School. A classically trained pianist, Showalter is a graduate of Stanford University and UCLA and has extensive experience in fundraising, which is now the primary job of orchestra CEOs, and a big reason why the NY Phil brought back Borda, a prodigious rainmaker as well as visionary. **UPDATE**: A symphony spokesperson says that Showalter has no plans to leave the OSO, which has enjoyed record ticket sales and donations under his leadership, and that he expects Borda to do great things in New York as she did in LA.

• PSU departure
Former Portland State University Dean of the College of the Arts Robert Bucker, an esteemed choral conductor, has been named Interim Vice Provost and Dean of the Faculty at New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music. A search is underway for his replacement.

Stephen Zopfi.

• Choir conductor change
Portland Symphonic Choir artistic director Steven Zopfi is departing after 14 years, as a result of a scheduling conflict with his work as director of choral activities at the University of Puget Sound. A search has commenced for his successor.

• Opera recovery
As Oregon ArtsWatch was first to announce publicly (you really should be checking our Facebook page!), Eugene Opera has cancelled its productions of West Side Story and La Tragedie de Carmen scheduled for March and May. The company announced last week that a small group of supporters has jointly pledged to donate a total of $60,000 when the company receives a matching $60,000 from other donors. The combined total of $120,000 is specifically earmarked to pay existing obligations to local artists, technicians, and businesses; it will cover about 75% of the current debt of $160,000. A separate $20,000 matching grant will begin funding the company’s next season.

• New opera series
Meanwhile, a new opera-oriented series has sprung up in Portland. The  Opera Wildwood Concert Series is a project of Luigi Boccia’s Vox Artis Foundation, which seeks to establish, organize and sponsor concert and lecture series, live and studio recordings, seminars and publishing/broadcasting activities through a specialized Youtube channel, in the U.S and abroad. Vox Artis also aims to provide encouragement, training opportunities, career assistance and financial support, including scholarships and awards, to promising and talented young singers and/or scholars,” according to its press release. The inaugural concert at Portland’s Wildwood Company on 3rd Avenue featured promising young opera singers. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for the latest developments with this new company, and other news in Oregon classical music.

Opportunities

Piano Day
Pianists are invited to sign up for Portland Piano International’s Piano Day — the first such celebration in the US. For the last two years, other countries have celebrated the 88th day of the year (corresponding to the number of keys on a standard piano), March 29, in 20 cities across the globe. Now, from noon – 10pm, pianists will play a total of 1000 minutes of piano music of all genres at four locations in the Portland Metro area at different times: the studio at All Classical Radio, the atrium at Portland City Hall, the platform at the Washington Park MAX Station (260 feet underground!) and the stage at Alberta Abbey. Pianists of all ages and abilities will perform on some of the City’s best pianos. The events will be free to the public, but each performer will be raising funds from the community with a minimum goal of $10 per minute played. The funds raised will be used to support the educational programs of Portland Piano International. Sign up to play or sponsor a pianist at http://portlandpiano.org/piano-day.

Battle of the Bands.
The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) is accepting registrations for its second annual Battle of the Bands competition, which happens Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom. Eight employee bands, sponsored by their companies, will perform in front of friends, family, co-workers and a panel of celebrity judges as they vie for the title of Best Company Band and other prizes. The event will raise more than $80,000 for RACC’s annual Work for Art campaign.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: let the good times reel

NW Film Center's "Reel Music," plays about D.B. Cooper and Ben Linder and a guy named Fly Guy, atlas art from post-Gutenberg days

“Tradition!” Tevye the milkman barked, and with that emphatic proclamation the song and dance reeled on. The traditions that last the best are the ones that constantly reshape themselves within the structures they’ve set up, and certainly the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival, which spools into its 34th annual edition on Friday, fits that category. The basic idea is the same as always: pull together a whole bunch of films about music and musicians (documentaries, primarily), but do new ones every year, and let the good times roll. Or reel.

Thelonious Monk with his band in 1959, from “The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith.” Credit 2016 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, FilmBuff

This year’s edition, which runs through February 5, kicks off with a foulmouthed film about the Rolling Stones (Robert Frank’s 1972 Cocksucker Blues) that followed the band on tour after the Altamont debacle, and was so raunchy and revealing about the seedier side of rock that it was shelved, and is only rarely seen. Here’s your chance. You might want to pair it with the more genteel, if that’s the right word, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, filmed on last year’s Latin American tour. I like the looks of 1957’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, filmed by the Life Magazine photographer when he lived and worked in an illegal loft teeming with artists and musicians and house parties and jam sessions in Manhattan’s Flower District during a golden age of jazz; A Poem Is a Naked Person, a cinematic portrait of Leon Russell directed by Maureen Gosling and the great Les Blank that was unreleased for 40 years because Russell, a co-producer, didn’t like it; and Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, Paul Bernays’ portrait of the essence-of-hip pianist and singer who was yet another member of last year’s sizable artists’ march into the final sunset. You, no doubt, will find your own favorites. Check the schedule and put on your toe-tapping shoes. It’s a tradition.

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Eugene Opera at 40: Back from the bottom

The plucky company, now on an upswing, performs a Berlioz rarity to open its 40th season this weekend

When Mark Beudert arrived as its artistic director in 2006, Eugene Opera was in trouble. The company was losing so much money that it could afford to stage only a single production in 2006-7, down from its average of three per year.

The company had hit rough patches since its 1977 founding by longtime Eugene classical music teacher and conductor Philip Bayles, who directed it for the first decade, and Ginevra Ralph. Performing first in high school gyms, and becoming a resident company of the Hult Center when it opened in 1982, the opera steadily grew in quality and resources (props, lighting, costumes), occasionally scoring some soon-to-be Big Names like Deborah Voigt and Susan Graham.

But opera is expensive, and after falling $340,000 in debt during the first George Bush recession in the early 1990s, it recovered along with the economy. But in the mid-2000s, several regional companies like San Diego Opera and even venerable New York City Opera soon succumbed (to be revived soon) to a confluence of economic and cultural changes and the second Bush recession of 2007.

Héro (Emily Way, left), Béatrice (center) and Ursula (Laura Thoreson, right) in Act 2 of Berlioz's 'Much Ado About Nothing' ('Béatrice et Bénédict'). Photo: Eugene Opera.

Héro (Emily Way, left), Béatrice (center) and Ursula (Laura Thoreson, right) in Act 2 of Berlioz’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (‘Béatrice et Bénédict’). Photo: Eugene Opera.

Since hitting bottom then, the company’s fortunes have revived. As its 40th anniversary season opens this weekend with a rare production of a Shakespearean opera by Hector Berlioz, its music director says Eugene Opera is now in the midst of “an unprecedented expansion,” built on a foundation of programming variety, lean operation, emphasis on vocal quality, and connecting with its community. 

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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.

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