metropolitan youth symphony

ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

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MusicWatch Weekly: pianos aplenty

There’s also organ music, choral music, string ensembles and a couple orchestras’ worth of fine young classical players and more on Oregon stages this week

Portland’s most welcome frequent contemporary classical guests, DUO Stephanie & Saar, return for a pair of entirely different shows, bringing plenty of piano-playing colleagues with them; Portland Piano International’s latest Rising Star flashes across the keyboard; and two of jazz’s most forward looking pianists, Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson, bring their trios to town, the former celebrating still another great pianist/composer, Thelonious Monk.

Stephanie & Saar perform twice in Portland.

DUO Stephanie and Saar
The renowned New York based piano duo visit Portland, Stephanie Ho’s hometown, frequently. This time, they perform J.S. Bach’s final work, the massive keyboard monument to counterpoint, The Art of Fugue, which they recently recorded. The next night, they join some of Portland’s finest pianists (from Third Angle, FearNoMusic, and local universities) to reprise some of the “greatest hits” from the three annual installments of their Makrokosmos concerts, including music by the greatest living American composers (Steve Reich, George Crumb, John Adams) and more.
Wednesday, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, and Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. Portland.

Allison Au Quartet
One of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz stars, saxophonist/composer Allison Au’s melodic original jazz just garnered the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy award for best jazz album for her second release, Forest Grove. Unfortunately, they’re not actually playing it in Forest Grove, but you can hear them in Portland and Eugene.
Wednesday, Jo Bar and Rotisserie, Portland and Thursday, Jazz Station, Eugene.

Jerry Douglas Band 
Even if you’ve never heard of Jerry Douglas, you’ve almost certainly heard his dobro, a guitar augmented by a metal plate and amplifying cone that makes a distinctive twangy sound. A Nashville studio regular who’s played on over 1500 recordings, he’s transcended the  boundaries between bluegrass, country, rock, jazz, pop – even contemporary classical. Along the way, Douglas has garnered dozens of awards, including a baker’s dozen Grammies and a Musician of the Year award from the Country Music Association; added zing to albums by Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, Earl Scruggs, Bill Frisell, Phish, and dozens of other stars; played in bands with Ricky Skaggs and in Alison Krauss’s Union Station. He’s an American music legend and always worth catching with his own band.
Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Makrokosmos Project
With duo pianists Stephanie & Saar in town to play Bach (see above) and no doubt visit family, why not celebrate the third anniversary of its valuable Makrokosmos project (which ArtsWatch has covered extensively — type the word into the search field above) by reprising some of the three epic extravaganzas’ greatest hits by some of America’s greatest 20th century composers: Steve Reichʼs Six Pianos, John Adamsʼs Hallelujah Junction, George Crumbʼs Makrokosmos I and II and more, including works by Oregonians like Alexander Schwarzkopfʼs Recycled Wheels. Performers in this free concert include Susan Smith, Deborah Cleaver, Julia Lee, Monica Ohuchi, Jeff Payne, Schwarzkopf and DUO Stephanie & Saar.
Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

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Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony reviews: among the young stars

Season ending concerts from Portland youth orchestras showcase the area's young classical musicians

by TERRY ROSS

They’re perhaps the second-best orchestra in Portland. And that’s saying something, considering that, unlike the Oregon Symphony, they’re all amateurs — everyone, including the first-chair players.

Plus they’re all college age or younger (sometimes much younger).

David Hattner led PYP’s spring concert at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Photo: Brian Clark.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic, the oldest young musicians’ band in the country, founded in 1924, is coming up on its centenary. Known as the Portland Junior Symphony for the first 54 years of its existence, it has flourished for 92 years with only five conductors. Formed by schoolteacher Mary Dodge at the Irvington School, the band soon secured the services of the Russian emigré Jacques Gershkovitch as its first conductor. The maestro served until 1953, when an alumnus of his orchestra, Jacob Avshalomov, took over and ruled the roost for another 42 (!) years. During Avshalomov’s tenure, the band enjoyed such illustrious guest conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.

Welshman Huw Edwards assumed control when “Mr. A.,” as he was called, retired in 1995. When Edwards left in 2002, Mei-Ann Chen became conductor, and she yielded the baton in 2008 to the current leader, David Hattner, who has led the group for the past nine years, having been chosen from a field of 112 candidates.

Hattner may be the best yet at the PYP. An accomplished clarinetist, he came relatively late to conducting but has compiled an impressive list of credits, including performances in Brooklyn, Eugene, Cincinnati and with the Oregon Symphony. He has instituted a chamber orchestra series to supplement PYP’s orchestra offerings, and to hear him talk about his job is to realize how committed he is to the mission of bringing talented kids and classical music together.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic that played on Sunday, May 7 in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was large: more than 100 young musicians, including an enormous string section and very generous winds (eight horns, four clarinets, four bassoons, four flutes, three oboes), plus a superb and charismatic timpanist, Colin Crandal, who seemed to be an inspiration for the whole band. With such forces, the orchestra succeeded in making itself heard clearly in the Schnitz’s wretched acoustics.

Composer Debra Kaye. Photo: Genevieve Spielberg.

This was very welcome in the program’s first selection, Ikarus Among the Stars, by New York composer Debra Kaye, a piece commissioned by the parents of former PYP violist Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko, who died in 2015 at age 16. Kaye’s 16-minute score balances the full orchestra’s sound against chamber music-like passages and electro-acoustic material recorded by Binya, as Mr. Klatchko was known. These include rhythm tracks, keyboard riffs, and even snatches of a song called “Among the Stars.” Their inclusion, especially the song’s, yield a somber but uplifting tone, a moving addition to Ms. Kaye’s sensitive and elegiac orchestration, which balanced the aspirations and fate of the mythological Ikarus’s attempt to escape earth’s clutches.

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Music News & Notes

Recent happenings in Oregon music

Been awhile since we rounded up recent news in Oregon classical music, so here’s some items that lit up our screens in recent months.

Laurels and Plaudits

• Composition Champ. University of Oregon composition professor Robert Kyr was one of four American composers to win this year’s American Academy of Arts and Letters $10,000 Arts and Letters Award for outstanding artistic achievement by a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice.

Mia Hall Miller

Mia Hall Miller

Wonder Woman. Pacific Youth Choir founder and director Mia Hall Miller received the Oregon Symphony’s 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award, a $10,000 prize that “honors an individual or organization that directly works to build community through the next generation of artists and/or student musicians.” Now in its 13th year, PYC boasts almost 300 singers in 10 choirs.

Violin Virtuosa. Portland violinist Fumika Mizuno is the only Oregonian selected among the 109 young musicians (age 16-19) from across the country for the fourth annual National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. It’s her second stint with the NYO, which (after a training residency in New York) performed with the great pianist Emanuel Ax at Carnegie Hall in July, then played concerts led by Valery Gergiev at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, in Montpellier France, Copenhagen, and Prague.

• Operatic ascent. Portland tenor A.J. Glueckert was one of six winners of the $10,000 George London awards, one of America’s oldest vocal competitions.

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams. 

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams.

Trumpeter on the rise. Eugene jazz trumpeter and composer Tony Glausi has been named the recipient of the 2016-17 Laurie Frink Career Grant, a biennial $10,000 award to give a “young brass player an opportunity for serious study or to undertake a creative project.” One of America’s most revered brass instrument teachers, Frink, who died in 2013, played in some of the finest jazz orchestras (including those of Maria Schneider, Benny Goodman Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue and more), performed with Broadway orchestras, co-wrote the definitive book on trumpet improvisation, and mentored some of today’s top trumpeters including Dave Douglas and Ambrose Akinmusire. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch profile of Glausi.

The Marylhurst Chamber Choir performs at the 2016 Cork International Choral Festival.

Choral Voyagers. Marylhurst University’s premiere choral ensemble, the Marylhurst Chamber Choir, was one of only 34 choirs from around the world, and the only American choir invited to perform at the Cork International Choir Festival in Cork, Ireland in May. It placed third to choirs from Sweden and Turkey in a close contest for the placed third in the festival’s top honor, the Fleischmann Award and won the Peace Award for the choir that best embodied the spirit of the festival.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Nutcracker for the ages (all of them)

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s three days until Christmas, and the day after the winter solstice (the day of, if you’re going by Greenwich Mean Time or its less elegantly named successor, Coordinated Universal Time), and that means that visions of nutcrackers keep dancing in our heads. This is not entirely voluntary – “inescapable” might be a more accurate word – but it’s not entirely unwelcome, either. As much as the inevitable annual return of The Nutcracker to ballet stages across America prompts world-weary calculations of budget-balancing and traditions gone wild, it also makes us think about why the thing’s so undyingly popular.

Lauren Kessler, right, as Clara's Aunt Rose in Eugene Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker." Photo courtesy Lauren Kessler.

Lauren Kessler, right, as Clara’s Aunt Rose in Eugene Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy Lauren Kessler.

Tchaikovsky’s score, steely and lush and brilliant, has a great deal to do with it: I’ve been known to give recordings of it a spin in mid-July, entirely out of season, and will put on Duke Ellington’s jazz-suite adaptation at the snowdrop of a hat. The ballet’s odd construction provides a neat children’s-perspective view of the season: the hubbub and excitement of Christmas Eve, with its scary visitor, fierce mouse army, and sibling spat, in the first act; the sheer pleasure, as the parade of divertissements rolls out in the second act, of opening all the gifts on Christmas morning. The ballet may be Russian and German in origin, but it’s also the height of Victoriana at a time of year when Victoria still rules. And if its story is less dark and enthralling than E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the ballet more than compensates with its music, dancing, and visual spectacle: I still miss Campbell Baird’s exquisite designs, based on Fabergé eggs, that Oregon Ballet Theatre used for several years in the James Canfield days.

The writer Lauren Kessler has long felt the enchantment, and unlike most of us, she did something about it. Kessler, long past ordinary ballet age, decided she wanted to perform in The Nutcracker, and so she cold-called Eugene Ballet’s Toni Pimble, looking for a chance to audition. As Angie Jabine notes for ArtsWatch in her fascinating review of Kessler’s book Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest To Dance The Nutcracker, Pimble said “sure” (or words to that effect), and Kessler set out to pursue her dream. Oh: and to write her book.

That meant, partly, getting her middle-aged body in shape. As Jabine writes: “Like Rocky Balboa in a leotard, she trained. All her previous weight lifting and track running and bicycle spinning had given her strength and endurance but had also shortened her hamstrings and bulked up her muscles. Now she would need to stretch out those hamstrings, develop her leg extension, and totally redefine her carriage. In early spring of 2014, she plunged into yoga, Pilates, water-jogging, and a machine-assisted workout called Gyrotonics—along with ballet classes, of course. All this, she notes, was just ‘prep for the prep for the real work.’”

In The Nutcracker, miracles happen. And so, gentle reader, Kessler did go on stage, as Clara’s Aunt Rose, last year and this year, too. And that, as both Kessler and Jabine tell it, is a pretty good story. Meanwhile, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s own Nutcracker, the George Balanchine version, continues through Saturday at Portland’s Keller Auditorium. You could watch the Christmas tree grow.

Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop in Oregon Ballet Theatre's production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." It continues through Saturday at Keller Auditorium.

Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” It continues through Saturday at Keller Auditorium. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

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A couple of weeks ago the celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma was in town for a solo gig at the Schnitz sponsored by the Oregon Symphony. And there, before curtain time, he ran into a group of young musicians called the MYSfits – that “MYS” stands for Metropolitan Youth Symphony – who were providing a little pre-show music from the second-floor landing. The kids didn’t have tickets for the show (they were scarce, and expensive), but the chance to play at the Schnitz before a major concert was too good to pass up. And then an older fellow showed up and asked if he could sit in for a bit, and then … but don’t let me spoil the story. Read it yourself, as ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell relates it. Something extraordinary, and entirely fitting the season, occurred. You’ll remember this story. You might find yourself retelling it to your friends.

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Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Lennon and McCartney wrote, and Rachel Tess is taking it a few steps farther: On Monday, she’ll be dancing in the dead of night. At 5:30 in the morning, to be precise, when it’ll still be midwinter dark, on the sidewalks of the still-sleeping city, outside 1210 Northwest 10th Avenue in Portland. She and choreographer Peter Mills will collaborate on RACHEL, a performance for the dead of night, which will keep its audience out-of-doors for up to an hour, so bundle up. Reservations are required; make them by emailing rtess@rachelvtess.org. And set your alarm.

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Also on Monday, at a likely more conducive hour (10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon) the Portland Art Museum will be open. The museum is open most days, of course, but it’s almost always closed Mondays, so this is something special. If you still want to walk off Christmas dinner and you don’t want to join the mob at the new Star Wars movie, this is an excellent dish to add to your plate. No need to set your alarm.


ArtsWatch links

 

The Mousai review: the importance of now. Ah, that’s more like it, Tristan Bliss writes: a concert made up entirely of work by contemporary composers, “the rare concert that doesn’t coerce nostalgia for a time gone-by that none of us have known, but sounds with torrential excitement to be alive now.”

The Moth: close to the flame. “The only thing missing was a campfire; and maybe some animal on a spit; otherwise, we were at home with our ancestors,” Christa Morletti McIntyre wrote about the celebrated storytelling program’s recent visit to Portland.

 


 

About ArtsWatch Weekly

We’ve been sending a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers. Now we’re also posting it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


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Yo-Yo Ma in Portland: Youth served

Legendary cellist joins young orchestra players in impromptu performance, and gives them the best seats in the house

When Yo-Yo Ma walked into Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Wednesday, December 9, he wasn’t expecting to hear anyone but himself play music. While the legendary cellist was joining the Eugene Symphony for a sold out concert two days later, his Portland show, though presented by the Oregon Symphony, was a solo gig.

So what, he asked his escort from the Oregon Symphony, was the obviously live music he was hearing as he entered the lobby?

image2As anyone who’s seen the OSO lately knows, its concerts are usually preceded by Prelude performances by local musicians, almost always young ones. “We love to give young performers a place to perform and an appreciative audience,” says the OSO Vice President for Communications Jim Fullan. “In addition, it provides our patrons with some pre-concert entertainment, which they always enjoy.” Held on the second floor landing where patrons can get really close to the musicians and the music, the brief performances make a tasty appetizer to an evening with the Oregon Symphony.

IMG_2171This evening’s Prelude performers, a string ensemble drawn from the ranks of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Symphony Orchestra, were in the middle of playing Edvard Grieg’s ever-popular Holberg Suite, conductor-less, which they sometimes do, when maybe the most renowned figure in classical music walked up to hear their set.

After the MYSfits started the fifth movement, Ma moved behind the group to observe the cellists. After watching for a bit, he asked MYS cellist Tommy Cohen, “Can I borrow your cello?” He sat down, and suddenly, 15 young Portland musicians were playing in Yo-Yo Ma’s band, or he in theirs. At the time, several of the musicians did not even realize that Ma was performing with them – it was quite a shock to finish the piece and see him there in the cello section.

Yo-Yo Ma, of course, isn’t just any celebrity soloist. The 60-year-0ld virtuoso is known as much for his restless curiosity and an eagerness to break boundaries, from his world music explorations to his Bach PBS special working with artists in different fields, to his Americana oriented Appalachia Waltz project and many more. He’s made 90 albums, collecting 18 Grammy awards to go with his National Medal of Arts, his Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Polar Music Prize, among multitudinous other laurels. He’s also played Barack Obama’s Presidential inaugural (continuing a string of Presidential appearances that began with his eight year old performance before President Eisenhower), collaborated with a broad range of musicians from the Dixie Chicks to Philip Glass to Bobby McFerrin. And he’s involved in many non-musical causes as well.

YYM MYSMa began to chat with the young musicians, offering general words of encouragement, telling them how impressed he was with the group. It was a nice gesture, something that all of them would tell their friends and families about for the rest of their lives, before the star headed off to his dressing room to prepare for his recital. The experience of playing with an idol, up close and personal, was something they would never forget.

“Above all,” recalled MYS music director William White, “Yo-Yo’s message was to have fun, perform, and communicate through music.”

Alas, a concert by Yo-Yo Ma is pretty much a guaranteed sellout anywhere in the world, ticket prices are dear, and none of the kids had tickets to his Schnitzer performance. But that didn’t stop their new bandmate from including them. He spoke to Oregon Symphony reps backstage, and about ten minutes before his recital began, 16 chairs appeared on the Schnitzer stage, flanking the star, and the MYS musicians got the word that they would be joining the great cellist. And that’s how the young musicians of MYS wound up with the best seats in the house.

Ma proceeded to play three of J.S. Bach’s legendary solo suites for cello, along with music by 20th century Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun (a friend of Bartok’s), a 2004 work Ma’s own world music Silk Road Ensemble commissioned from Chinese composer Zhao Jiping, and the popular “Appalachia Waltz” written by Ma’s fiddle buddy Mark O’Connor, who is to his instrument what Ma is to the cello.

IMG_1722

“What’s amazing about Yo-Yo Ma is that he made the kids part of the performance,” White says, “personally engaging each of them on stage through his performance, directing little winks, nods, and smiles at each of our students, seemingly trying to point out what he was doing, musically, with each of the pieces.”

“Let me be absolutely clear,” Ma announced to the startled Schnitzer audience at the close of his set. “I am the MYSfit on this stage.”

photoAfter his performance, Ma met with his new young colleagues, praising their skill and ability to play precisely without a conductor, dispensing advice (including some repertoire to try out), and even tips on presenting concerts in fresh ways. The students’ social media accounts quickly propagated with messages of gratitude and astonishment for the great cellist’s generosity. Yo-Yo Ma may not have expected to play in a band when he entered the Schnitzer Concert Hall, but by the time he left, he had a new one.

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News & Notes: Oregon classical music

Recent news in Oregon classical music

As the music season gets underway, here’s a recap of some of the news that transpired in Oregon classical music over the past few months.

New Music

• Portland composer Kenji Bunch continues to fulfill the promise we detected when he returned to his hometown after building a solid career in New York for the previous two decades. His music has been all over Oregon stages since then, he’s working with the Oregon Symphony, FearNoMusic and Portland Youth Philharmonic, and now, he’s written a new piece for a new piano competition sponsored by that most forward looking of Northwest orchestras, the Seattle Symphony. All nine contestants will play the piece in next week’s contest, with the winner scoring not just a $10K prize but also other prizes, including the chance to perform at the SSO’s opening night concert September 19 and with the orchestra next year.

Kenji Bunch

Kenji Bunch

• Bunch also composed a new symphony, Dream Songs, his third, for the Grant Park Music Festival. None other than Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar conducted the world premiere in June. Let’s hope the OSO, which has devoted only a shamefully tiny fraction of its total playing time to Oregon music during his tenure, will treat Oregonians to it soon.

• The OSO did release a new CD of music by long dead American composers, none of them Oregonians, in January. We’ll have a review later. But the orchestra squandered another in a long line of opportunities to put new Oregon music in front of a vast, diverse Oregon audience when it again turned its back on its own homeland and played almost entirely music by long- dead Europeans at its annual Waterfront Concert this month; despite accepting tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies for the concert from Oregon taxpayers, it played not one note by an Oregon composer. An orchestra that actually cared about its community’s creativity might use some of that taxpayer-provided largesse to commission a new work from an Oregon composer for each of these Oregon-financed concerts. After 10 years, it could fill a CD with new Oregon music from the Waterfront. And the world would have a whole bunch of new orchestral music by Oregon composers.

• Jacksonville’s Britt Festival has commissioned New York City’s Michael Gordon, the quintessential urban composer, to write a piece about Oregon’s pastoral treasure Crater Lake, a place he’d never been. Very cool to see visionary Britt artistic director Teddy Abrams making such a commitment to new music. He’s definitely doing a lot to connect orchestras to contemporary culture. And judging by the conversation below, Gordon seems to be approaching his task conscientiously. But why not choose a composer who had actually visited the place and written music about the state — like one from, oh, I don’t know, maybe Oregon?

New Blood

• Portland Baroque Orchestra appointed Marcia Kaufmann this month as its executive director and PBO veteran Andrea Hess as director of operations. Kaufmann comes to PBO from Colorado’s Breckenridge Music Festival, where she served as executive director.

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