march music moderne

Arnica Quartet performed at March Music Moderne.

Arnica Quartet performed at March Music Moderne.


If the Arnica Quartet‘s March 14 overview of British 20th century master Benjamin Britten’s three string quartets at Portland’s Community Music Center was any indication, their April 5 reprise of his last quartet, largely written in Venice, seems likely to be a vital if somewhat poignant addition to the Portland Art Museum’s ongoing Venice exhibition – provided they can soak up a little of the Adriatic warmth emanating from the masterworks on display.



Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne

Musicians from Classical Revolution PDX performed at Holocene in March Music Moderne.

There are people who really like the mathematically determined music of the 20th century Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis—more than just acknowledging its undeniable historical importance. There are also people, I am told, who enjoy being rolfed, walking barefoot across hot coals, participating in fight clubs, and being lashed by whips. I think these all must be the same people.

Enduring the relentless pummeling of the Portland premiere of Xenakis’s 1978 exercise in dissonance Ikhoor at Sunday night’s closing March Music Moderne, just after enjoying so many other concerts featuring young (and sometimes not-so-young) Oregon composers at the same festival revealed just how far midcentury modernism that MMM celebrates strayed from appealing to a broad audience — and how Oregon composers are leading the way in bringing music in the classical tradition back to its rightful, central place in the hearts and minds of anyone who loves music, not just the dwindling niche who dig discordance.


Hallie Ford Fellowships continue, ‘Blue Wheel’ rolls, so does March Music Moderne

The crucial Ford Family Foundation Visual Arts Program is renewed, Susan Banyas's "Blue Wheel" rolls, so does modern music

Hallie Ford Fellow Stephen Hayes' "Mezzanine"

Hallie Ford Fellow Stephen Hayes’ “Mezzanine”

Last week the Ford Family Foundation made an important announcement: The foundation decided to extend its Visual Arts Program through 2019. Established in 2010 to honor the late Hallie Ford’s intense interest in the visual arts, the foundation has quickly become an important arts funder in Oregon, most visibly through its Hallie Ford Fellows program, which has given $25,000 to three mid-career Oregon artists. The list of previous fellows is impressive: The first “class” included  Daniel Duford, David Eckard, and Heidi Schwegler, and subsequent years numbered Stephen Hayes, Bruce Conkle, Michelle Ross, and Cynthia Lahti among the fellows just to pick a few (you can see the whole list on the website). The foundation is increasing the number of fellows from three to five.

The other increase comes in the foundation’s artist-in-residency program, two-year grant awards of $40,000 each, which grows from five artists to eight, “to provide opportunities for artists to explore and conceptualize new work. Fifty percent of the funding helps underwrite the residency program; the balance provides stipends to the selected artists to help offset life and work expenses.” Although the fellowship and residency tracks are the best-known, the Visual Arts Program also helps Oregon arts institutions acquire  important work by Oregon artists; curates, prepares and travels of exhibitions of works by Oregon visual artists and the production of catalogues and other appropriate materials; supports facility improvement at arts institutions; supports visits by national critics and curators to Oregon for consultations with Oregon artists and public lectures; and offers career opportunity grants for artists.

That’s a commendably comprehensive approach to the visual arts (I’d love to similar programs established for theater, dance, music and other art forms), and its extension is important. The foundation board, chaired by Karla Chambers, and staff (Carol Dalu is responsible for the Visual Arts Program) deserve our thanks, even though in this case it’s a little belated!

March Music Moderne is bubbling along, filling the city with classically based music of a distinctly contemporary cast. Friday is loaded with interesting choices:

  • Judith Cohen plays piano music by Louis Andriessen, Béla Bartók, Ken Benshoof, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alan Hovhaness, Erik Satie, Erwin Schulhoff and Patrick Stoyanovich, 3 pm, Portland Piano Company, 711 SW 14th Ave, Portland, free.
  • James Harley lectures on the music of Iannis Xenakis (Mathematics in Music: Xenakis & beyond), 5 pm, Lewis & Clark College, Evans Auditorium, free.
  • Lewis & Clark College,  Evans Auditorium, free.
  • The Arnica Quartet plays three Benjamin Britten String Quartets, 7:30 pm, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St, Portland, $10.
  • Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) with a score assembled by Robbie Robertson from works by Krzysztof Penderecki, Giacinto Scelsi, Ingram Marshall, György Ligeti, John Cage, Lou Harrison & Dinah Washington, 11:00 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., free.  (Part of the Sounding Cinema series)

Naturally, I want to push our own contribution to March Music Moderne, Oregon ComposersWatch, which both links to a resource page here at ArtsWatch and a live performance of new music by three Oregon composers. That’s at noon on Saturday, at TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont St., Portland,and it’s only possible because of the Cascadia Composers and Classical Revolution PDX. It’s free, and it also involves some talk about the music with the composers, Bonnie Miksch, Jedadiah Bernards, and Christopher Corbell, led by our own Brett Campbell. Please join us!

For a much fuller rendition of the weekend at March Music Moderne, please tune in to Brett’s Weekend MusicWatch, which is a wonderful weekly resource that music fans should look for every single week!

ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks wrote glowingly about defunct theatre’s Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, and the company has added performances March 28 and 29. May a hundred (or two) theater fans fill the friendly confines!

If I myself were in town this weekend, I’d try very hard to see Susan Banyas’s latest performance piece, Blue Wheel, a performance collage of dance, visual art, projections, text, and music that Banyas developed partly during a stint in the Robert Rauschenberg Residency Program in Florida. Banyas’s collaborators are practically a who’s who of local artists. The movement and monologues are by Gregg Bielemeier, Dorinda Holler, Stephanie Schaaf and Celine Bouly; music is by David Ornette Cherry; painting stories written and performed by Lucinda Parker; props, projections, and performance are by Bill Will, and lighting design is by Peter West and Bill Boese. It’s all on March 14-15 in the Headwaters Theater, 55 NE Farragut St. #9, Portland. Suggested donation is $10.

Blue Wheel (TITLED final) HDmaster VIMEO.mp4 from susan banyas on Vimeo.

The new Free Marz Trio closes March Music Moderne Sunday. Photo: Chris Leck

The new Free Marz  String Trio closes March Music Moderne Sunday. Photo: Chris Leck

After a scintillating — and for some of us, exhausting — opening week, the final weekend of Oregon’s March musical madness, March Music Moderne, arrives, plus other chamber music concerts that flirt with modernity. All MMM listings are in Portland unless otherwise specified, and information on all of them are at the March Music Moderne website, which contains info about films, lectures, and other concerts not listed here.


Tomas Svoboda

Tomas Svoboda


Hey, Tarantino! use THIS for your next medieval ass-kicking!

Oregon’s greatest living composer, Tomas Svoboda wrote the Suite, op. 124 for his daughter and himself to play. Inspired by his anger at losing his favorite duet partner when his daughter made the choice to pursue activities away from the piano, Svoboda poured that tantrum into this third movement, which explodes into a fireworks catharsis after the restrained machine of the first part and the storm-calm of the second, both written six years earlier.

Svoboda writes the way a great movie director like Quentin Tarantino directs—with the audience in mind. The second movement of his second piano sonata weaves polyphonic, polyrhythmic, polydynamic, polyarticulated and polytextured counterpoint—not just between the hands but also within each hand—to increase tension in a movement that processes suicide, asking and finally screaming the question “To be, or Not?” The music drives obsessively toward the latter, the opposite of self-indulgent German romantic outpouring, “weltschmerz.”

I have been in love with Svoboda’s music ever since I first heard him play his two-piano sonata with Lawrence Smiththe then-conductor of the Oregon Symphony, way back when I was nine years old. That’s why Kenn Willson and I put on a whole concert of his piano duet music in a 1994 concert called The Svoboda Project, and it’s why I’ve teamed up with gifted musicians with the work ethic to rehearse, collectively, for hundreds of hours for Saturday’s free March Music Moderne concert, the Svoboda Project II, at the Community Music Center. Other composers come and go, but Svoboda stays with me.

Why? Is it the sex and drugs and rock & roll?


Tardis Ensemble performs at March Music Moderne

Tardis Ensemble performs at Portland’s March Music Moderne Sunday.

This weekend begins Oregon’s most important week for music in the classical tradition. Now in its fourth season, March Music Moderne has transcended the mid-century sounding name to be a showcase for music from the late 20th century up through today. Chief provocateur Bob Priest deserves enormous credit for creating a space for today’s music — so criminally ignored by most of our classical music institutions most of the time —  that he and others have stuffed with a wide range of performances in a startling variety of venues. Priest has his preferences and boundaries, of course, but his ambit is wider than just about anyone else in the Northwest, and the festival he founded and runs pretty much on enthusiasm and effort has become one of Oregon’s most vital and valuable arts institutions.


Good Fellas

There's a new music mafia in Oregon: meet the godfathers


I dragged myself to my first Cascadia Composers concert on a rainy November night in 2010, tired after a full day of teaching. David Bernstein greeted the audience with a welcome speech pleading with us to take pity on composers – so little respected and liked anymore.

I rolled my eyes. Who’s to blame for composers not being well respected or liked anymore? Could it possibly be. . . . THEY are to blame? For having subjected us for half of the 20th century to sudoku math puzzles or chance games masquerading as music? They called it the Modernist era, after the fact. I call it bullshit. Moreover, the music at that first CC concert sucked, the performances sucked and I stalked home in a bad mood.


Founder Mattie Kaiser toasts the revolution at CRPDX's fifth anniversary bash.

Founder Mattie Kaiser toasts the revolution at CRPDX’s fifth anniversary bash.

When I first met Mattie Kaiser, she looked haggard. Sitting on a barstool at the Waypost, the founder of Classical Revolution PDX, an indie classical music organization founded for those who defined classical music as something larger than the pin-point of anything old and academic, she was waiting for one of its early-on chamber jams to be over so she could go home and sleep.

Kaiser would also have been easy to underestimate. In these early days of CRPDX, after they’d switched from infrequent jams announced well in advance (at various venues like Red & Black Cafe, Costello’s, Someday Lounge, the Woods) to weekly sessions at The Waypost in northeast Portland circa 2011, there were nights when it was just Mattie who held down the fort, playing solo Bach on her viola to no one in the room. Hard to believe from a personality so charismatic, from someone who understands the importance of physical appearances (and she is beautiful!), from what seems like a performer with a natural ability to draw an audience. Obviously it takes more and as I would soon discover, in Kaiser the tenacity is there.


Enter Bob Priest, impresario of music festival March Music Moderne. We too started off on the wrong foot. I completely misunderstood his mission, having been completely seduced by the title of the first of his two concerts in his then-weekend festival: “Almost Nothing Like Purple Haze.” He assured me that that 2011 weekend concert series was a one-off, explaining that he was too tired and too burned out from having done this sort of thing in his distant past with disastrous consequences to his health, I nodded disingenuously in false agreement, secretly plotting how to get him to meet me for coffee so I could cajole him into presenting another year of expanded MMM festspielnalia.

Turns out it wasn’t hard. Priest is a festival creator addict. He had been taking notes on his yellow legal pad while waiting for me to show up. Full of ideas, exuberant, clearly in the throes of his high, he left me in the dust – something I’m not used to. Priest knew exactly what he wanted: Modernism! I detest it because of its academic elitist attitude and its misconceived perception that music is made minus feeling or choice.

I knew exactly what I wanted from Bob: a one-month long festival in March, feting up-to-the minute music with up-to-the-minute fresh professional presentations, something that could be marketed as a Portland tourist attraction in our least attractive tourist season. And never the two shall meet, or so I imagined after this fireworks first meeting.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!