lou harrison

ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL

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A dozen great reads from 2017

From a Lewis Carroll lark to a rambling Road Dog to a play about a baby to art out of ocean garbage, twelve ArtsWatch stories not to miss

A dance critic walks into an art show. A man and his dog travel the byroads of America. A pop song sinks into a writer’s soul. A jazz pianist walks into the wilderness. A play about a baby strikes a theater reviewer close to home. On the southern Oregon coast, artists make huge sculptures from the detritus that chokes the sea.

We run a lot of stories on a lot of subjects at Oregon ArtsWatch – more than 500 in 2017 alone – and a few stand out simply as stories that want to be told. Put together a good writer and a good subject and chances are you’ll get a memorable tale. Here are a dozen such stories from 2017.

 


 

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A look back at a dozen stories from 2017 you won’t want to miss:

 

Matthew Kerrigan reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, with a fleeting attention span ruled by a smartphone.

We’re all mad here … so let’s party

Jan. 31: “What do you do with your existential frustration? If you boil it down into its purest form, you get either despair or rage—which then has to be dealt with. But if you chill it out and mix in some humor, you end up with absurdity. And that can be played with! O Frabjous Day!” A.L. Adams got down in the existential trenches with Shaking the Tree’s We’re All Mad Here, a piece performed and largely conceived by Matthew Kerrigan in homage to the great absurdist Lewis Carroll. “Any drug-addled dodo could dream up a different world, but that wasn’t the crux of Carroll’s vision. Like his forebears Aesop and Chaucer and Jonathan ‘Gulliver’ Swift, Carroll was a satirist as well as a fabulist.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Solstice!

Here comes summer. Here comes summer art. Take off your shoes, put on your swimsuit, and dive right in.

Raise a glass, if you’re of a mind, to summer, which according to the wise old heads of The Old Farmer’s Almanac officially begins at 9:24 Pacific Daylight Time this evening – Tuesday, June 20. If you’re reading this on the East Coast you’ll need to wait until 12:24 on Wednesday morning for the solstice to kick in.

That makes it high time to start thinking about summer arts, too.

The eclectic Siletz Bay Music Festival in and around Lincoln City on the Oregon coast opens Wednesday with some Mendelssohn and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and continues through July 4 with concerts ranging from classics to rock violin to swing jazz and cabaret.

Chamber Music Northwest kicks off its summer season in Portland on Monday evening, June 26, with a program of music by Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach (plus a little Bach), and continues through July 30. The opener’s a good introduction to this year’s celebration of women composers – and that ties in neatly to Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s swiftly approaching program of free performances June 29-30 in the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater, featuring works by three women choreographers. For a deeper look, see Jamuna Chiarini’s interview with Helen Simoneau, one of the three, in DanceWatch Weekly.

Falstaff (K. T. Vogt) bemoans his difficulties wooing Mistresses Ford and Page, unaware that he’s speaking to Master Ford (Rex Young) in disguise. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The granddaddy of Oregon summer festivals, Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, continues full steam ahead through October with eleven plays moving in and out of repertory during the season. Sir John Falstaff, that great gross night, makes a big splash, making appearances in all three plays in which he’s a character. For more on that, read Suzi Steffen’s Five questions for the Falstaffs, an interview with festival actors K.T. Vogt and G. Valmont Thomas, who between them cover all of the big guy’s bases.

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CeLOUbration preview: Lou Harrison’s Portland origins

PSU throws a 100th birthday party for Oregon's greatest composer featuring Harrison's chamber, gamelan, and percussion music and new music by Oregon composers, plus a free academic salon

One of the 20th century’s greatest composers, Lou Harrison (1917-2003) pioneered alluring fusions of Asian and Western classical music as well as creating a startling variety of sounds and helping restore danceable melody to classical music over a seven decade career. That journey began with his birth in Portland, where the young Harrison discovered the Asian art that would inspire his rich creative career. This weekend — appropriately during Pride Week, as he was early on one of America’s out-est and proudest gay composers and worked for equal rights — Portland State University celebrates Harrison’s centennial in three concerts, a musical salon and academic symposium. See below for more details.

This excerpt adapted from the new biography, Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press) by California composer and music professor Bill Alves and me describes Harrison’s Portland beginnings. Read more about Harrison’s lifelong Oregon connections here

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Whenever Lou Harrison came home, it was like stepping into another culture. From as early in childhood as he could remember, wherever he looked in his family’s apartment in Portland, Oregon’s Silver Court Apartments, young Lou saw colorful paintings from various Asian cultures mounted on walls covered by Japanese grass wallpaper. Chinese carved teak furniture perched on Persian rugs, colorful Japanese lanterns dangled from the ceiling, cloisonné objects filled the mantel, and the rooms boasted other artifacts from Asia and the Middle East. Compared to the prosaic furnishings and fixtures of the rest of the young Harrison’s post-World War I Pacific Northwest life, his home was an almost magical place.

The exotic decor sprang from the ambitions of his mother. Born in Seattle in 1890, Calline Silver grew up in the Alaskan frontier with her sister, Lounette. Despite these rough circumstances, their father saw to it that both girls had music lessons, at a time when music was an important marker of good breeding and refinement for young women. After her father died and Cal raised herself from this rustic beginning to a middle-class ideal, she became a woman of strong will and determination, qualities that her son would inherit. She married affable, fair-skinned Clarence Harrison, a first-generation American born in 1882, whose Norwegian father had, like many immigrants, changed his surname from exotic (de Nësja) to blend-in conventional: Harrison.

Like many upwardly mobile West Coasters, Cal Harrison was attracted to the allure of Asia and regarded exotic artifacts as exemplars of refined taste. Such decorations were common in Portland homes since the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair. Japan alone spent a million dollars on its exhibit, which featured exotic (to American eyes) arts and crafts, sparking a local infatuation with Asian art and culture. Many middle- and upper-class houses boasted “Oriental Rooms” festooned with Asian and Middle Eastern furniture and art, “Turkish corners,” and other symbols of what many Americans still regarded as the mysterious East.

That Pacific exoticism also manifested in music. When Lou was born on May 14, 1917, Hawaiian music was the most popular genre in America. Radio broadcasts of Hawaiian slide guitars and the clacks of his mother’s mah-jongg tiles supplied the soundtrack to some of his earliest memories—and inspired one of his last compositions eight decades later.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:

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Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Really big show

Going big: Perséphone with puppets, an American in Paris, Mahler's grand sweep, the sounds of Cuba and Lou Harrison

At the Portland Showtime Bistro, audiences like things well-done, but often served small to medium. We enjoy our intimacy, from compact ensembles like Portland Baroque Orchestra and FearNoMusic to closeup theater spaces like CoHo, the Back Door, the Ellyn Bye Studio, Shoebox, and Shaking the Tree. Summer’s coming, and with it, once again, that sprawling celebration of good things in small packages, the Chamber Music Northwest summer festival (with a welcome emphasis this year on women composers).

But sometimes you want the whole darned smorgasbord, and only big will do. Portland can provide that, too, and lately it’s been doing so … well, big-time.

Big night on the town: Portland Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver.

Portland Opera’s just completed its grand-scale production of Puccini’s overflowing romantic potboiler La Bohème (Terry Ross reviewed it for ArtsWatch here) and is saddling up for a June musical-theater adventure in giant-windmill territory with Man of La Mancha (featuring Grimm star Reggie Lee as one of the best sidekicks in history, Sancho Panza).

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Lou Harrison at 100: a global musical legacy, born in Oregon

Portland classical music groups have shamefully ignored the music of Oregon's greatest composer in his centennial year — but that's about to change

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John Cage: “Many Happy Returns” for Lou Harrison

One hundred years ago Sunday, one of America’s greatest and most influential composers was born in Portland. This spring, concerts around the world are honoring the colorful musical legacy of Lou Harrison, who spent the first decade of his life here, and returned often after creating some of the 20th century’s most seductive and trailblazing sounds.

Lou Harrison (l) and his life partner and fellow Oregonian Bill Colvig.

During this birthday week alone, over a dozen tribute shows will be performed in California, where Harrison lived most of his long and fruitful life until his death at 85 in 2003. Other concerts have happened or will occur in New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and many other places — including Lapland! Yet so far as we’re aware, not a single Portland classical orchestra or ensemble has bothered to program any of the music of the greatest composer to emerge from Portland during his centennial year. After all, Harrison’s significance is widely recognized elsewhere (as for example in a recent article by The New Yorker magazine classical music critic Alex Ross (the magazine ran a long feature profile of Harrison before he died), and a segment on National Public Radio) as a major figure in American music.

More important, Lou Harrison’s music matters now. We shouldn’t listen today merely because he was born in Portland, but because so much is simply beautiful: melodic, danceable, global in its influences and impact, played and danced to all around the country. He was an emotional guy, and his music bristles with emotion — sometimes angry, sometimes melancholy, often joyful, and all colors in between. That’s why it’ll always connect with listeners who come to music for an emotional, not just an intellectual experience.

Fortunately, an important Harrison event is happening here in June. We’ll get to that in a moment, along with information on how ArtsWatch can help Oregon musicians who want to delight listeners with the pioneering, tuneful, forward-looking music of Oregon’s greatest composer during the remainder of this centennial year — and beyond.

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