john vergin

Oregon Rites of Spring Survey 2: Oregon interludes

Oregon composers' music highlights spring concerts of 20th and 21st century sounds.

As the last early evening summer sunlight streamed through the windows of Portland’s Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery, the city’s most exciting current composer, Kenji Bunch, meandered around the main gallery, playing his viola, passing within inches of the several dozen people in folding chairs. As he orbited the two big pianos installed in the center of the space, Bunch’s New Orleans-accented 2010 viola solo “Etoufee” gradually heated to a crayfish-cooking boil.

After enthusiastic applause, Bunch’s wife Monica Ohuchi, an equally (at least) fine musician in her own right, followed with a brief blistering hurricane, Bunch’s 2010-11 Etude 4. Bunch then joined her for I Dream in Evergreen, a spare and melancholy 2008 “meditation on permanence and impermanence,” he said. In my imagination, the triptych formed a musical parable of New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Kenji Bunch played his own music at Blue Sky Gallery.

Kenji Bunch played his own music at Blue Sky Gallery.

The couple concluded one of the best sets of music I heard all season with a ferocious performance of his 1998 Suite for Viola and Piano, which began with a fervid, neb-romantic Rhapsody, a real joke of a Scherzo that alternated between plucked and bowed passages, then a yearning, heartfelt lament, interrupted by jagged sobs that lurched straight into a whizzing whirlwind that showed off the viola’s full range of expression, eliciting cheers and hollers from the crowd for a rousing performance that lived up to the set’s title, Unleashed.

Bunch’s set was the second of four in the June 25 inaugural edition of the Makrokosmos Project, the evening-long annual showcase perpetrated by duo pianists Stephanie and Saar. That concert, in turn was one of several this spring and summer that mixed contemporary Oregon compositions with other music, which we’re looking at here second installment in our three-part series covering Oregon contemporary classical music circa spring 2015. (The third and final episode covers several all-Oregon contemporary classical concerts that highlighted the spring music schedule.) While it’s always gratifying to see full concerts of music by Oregon composers like the one we looked at in the first episode of our spring survey, ghettoizing Oregon classical music (like any new music) may deny other listeners the opportunity to stumble across it. Many Oregon music lovers may not know they’ll like music composed by Oregonians, because they may not have heard much of it. Many of our major institutions, from orchestras to radio stations, implicitly signal its inferiority by devoting only a tiny percentage of their programming time to it. Mixing new and old, local and international, in concert programs, allows the audience for each to bolster the others — and listeners to discover new sounds that they might like as much as the music they came for.

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Mock’s Crest Productions review: A “Pinafore” for purists

Gilbert and Sullivan's 'HMS Pinafore' profits from strong staging and leading-role performers.

by BRUCE BROWNE

Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and …. Gilbert and Sullivan? Absolutely, yes! Those two set off 135 years ago on the partnership trail that would lead to 14 successful operettas. (Today we might call them musicals, but they’re not!) And some decades later, their American cousins followed suit with their own partnerships. W. S. Gilbert (words) and Arthur Sullivan (music), though, were the first populist duo to mix the vernacular with the operatic and come out with the model of the modern major musical.

Mock’s Crest production of H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan at their most traditional, perhaps close to the way one would have seen it in 1878. Costumes, set and actors all hewed closely to the D’Oyly Carte production. Dialogue and lyrics original. No modern references (a la Pirate of Penzance at Portland Opera last year.) Pinafore purists should be proud.

Mock's Crest's HMS Pinafore. Photo: Larry Larsen

Mock’s Crest’s HMS Pinafore. Photo: Larry Larsen

Give three cheers, and one cheer more, for the orchestra, led by Tracey Edson. It was a great band, and stationed in a great place – upstage, behind the actors. Edson kept a swift pace, as the show clocked in at just a little over two hours. Still time for a cool summer ice cream before bed.

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