free marz trio


Fred Hauptman conducts Free Marz Trio's Diane Chaplin, Joel Belgique and (not shown) Ines Voglar


“Give me a C!” implored composer/classical radio announcer Robert McBride on stage at Portland’s Coho Theater Thursday night.

“C!” the audience shouted in reply, while the Free Marz String Trio played C major on their instruments.

“Give me an A!”


“Give me a G!”


“Give me an E!”


“What’s the spell?”


That was the first movement of McBride’s new work for string trio, 4”34’, a tribute to John Cage, whom we’re not supposed to be talking about. And yet as I write this, John Adams is talking about him in a discussion, webcast live, that’s part of  San Francisco Symphony’s American Mavericks series now bringing 20th century American west coast music to that orchestra and to New York City.

Commissioned by March Music Moderne, McBride’s piece, which actually owes as much to Paul Simon as to Cage himself, and featured a lovely turn by emerita Oregon Ballet Theater dancer Gavin Larson, was a highlight of the trio’s March Music Moderne concert, which also featured gripping solo works by 20th century Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (better known as the erstwhile LA Philharmonic conductor), each boldly played by one member of the husband and wife Oregon Symphony/ FearNoMusic team of Ines Voglar and Joel Belgique.

The full trio (with Northwest New Music cellist Diane Chaplin, who did a terrific job in some challenging, unfamiliar repertoire as a last minute fill in for the original cellist, called away on a family emergency) also converged for the blistering closing work, 1962’s Genesis I: Elementi, which opens with as arresting an intro as any music I’ve heard and proceeds through a fusillade of wild sirens and squeaks that would have surprised fans of its composer, Henryk Gorecki’s most popular work, the stirring Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, whose recording featuring Dawn Upshaw remains one of the most popular works of 20th century music yet seems a world away from these searing sounds.

Those pieces would have made this revelatory concert one of the year’s most worthwhile, but even more engrossing was Free Marz impresario Bob Priest’s other discovery, Czech composer Hans Krasa, whose Passacaglia & Fugue, written  at the Terezin concentration camp days before the Nazis murdered him at Auschwitz’s gas chamber, which whirled kaleidoscopically from lush late romanticism to neo-Baroque fugue to neo-classical and other styles yet somehow remained mostly coherent.  Add fascinating smoke and oil art by Paul Sutfin in the lobby and actor Jean Sherrard’s dramatic declamation of words by Czeslaw Milosz, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Michel Serres and we have one of the year’s most fascinating chamber music concerts.

March Music Moderne continues this week with performances of contemporary sounds all over Portland. Saturday night’s “Broken Flowers” at Zoomtopia 810 SE Belmont is another multimedia spectacle, featuring the Agniezska Laska Dancers performing one of their signature works that actually escape classical music and dance’s pretty museum and address contemporary concerns, in this case human trafficking and sex slavery.

Before that, a non MMM show at Old Town Portland’s Someday Lounge at 5 pm Saturday features the new Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project in music by CPOP founder Justin Ralls,  20th century American composer Frederic Rzewski’s Moutons de Panurge and more.

Sunday’s MMM showcase is one of the worthiest of the year, in which Classical Revolution PDX invests in the creation of new music, rather than merely fetishizing the worship of the old, by sponsoring a string quartet competition. Music from ten finalists among those who submitted entries will be performed by CRPDX and DTQ string quartets, and a panel of mostly distinguished (except for one) judges will determine which one gets the prize: a professional recording of the winning quartet.

There’s also a contemporary work on Kirill Gerstein’s Portland Piano International recital Sunday at Portland’s Newmark theater: a surprisingly gentle Oliver Knussen piece the pianist commissioned in 2010. The show also features music by Bach, Schumann, and Mozart.

See OAW’s two week calendar for more concerts and arts events worth catching. And don’t forget the chant: “Give me a C….”

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