opera theater oregon

MusicWatch Weekly: in- and outdoor sounds

It's worth venturing outside, smoke and all, to catch some late summer sounds this week, and indoor music is available too

Our weekly music listings, having recently moved back in with the parents over the summer, as so many graduates are doing these days, are pleased to announce that they’ve found their own place again and are busily furnishing it with shiny new previews of a select few music events around the state — many of them alfresco. There is no truth to the rumor that the Music listings were jealous that their Drama siblings just got their own place too….

Tia Fuller performs two shows with her quartet in Portland Friday.

Portland SummerFest

The annual summer music festival temporarily relocates from Washington Park (thanks to construction) to downtown Portland’s so-called “Halprin Sequence,” the lovely if sometimes overlooked public spaces designed by famed architect Lawrence Halprin to restore a few human-scale spaces to a downtown Portland neighborhood ravaged by ‘60s-style car centric urban renewal. As you stroll among Lovejoy and Keller Fountains, Pettygrove Park and the little Source Fountain from 5–9 pm, hear urban soundscapes, music by inventive Cascadia composers Jennifer Wright and Daniel Brugh, local opera singers accompanied by pianist Chuck Dillard, and more.

Wednesday, SW Lincoln and SW Market Streets, Portland.

Hunter Noack performs in three outdoor Oregon settings this week.

“In a Landscape”

Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to Astoria, Pendleton, Eugene, and ten other towns from the coast to the Steens. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances (and probably fire/weather related updates) through September 30.

Wednesday, Agate Beach Golf Course, Newport; Thursday, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, Eugene; Saturday, Suttle Lodge & Boathouse, Sisters.

Al Di Meola shreds on Wednesday in Portland. Photo: Alessio Belloni.

Al Di Meola

The paragon of jazz fusion guitar returns, augmented by a quintet that includes electric violin, on a 40th anniversary tour that features both electric and acoustic axes and tight, tuneful jazz influenced by various global traditions, from Middle Eastern to flamenco.

Wednesday. Revolution Hall, Portland.

Sam Hong plays Oregon music and more this weekend.

Sahun “Sam” Hong

Portland Piano International kicks off its next admirable (and free of charge!) Rising Star series with the young prize winning pianist playing Beethoven and Chopin sonatas, Brahms’s lovely Op. 119 pieces, and a pair of intermezzi by the fine Oregon composer Brent Weaver.

Thursday, George Fox University, Bauman Auditorium, Newberg; Friday, Terwilliger Plaza and Monday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Tia Fuller Quartet (early and late shows)

The rising jazz alto/soprano sax star is probably best known for her work in Beyonce’s band and other pop star gigs (Aretha, Jay Z, et al), but jazz heads and critics have long admired her supple, energetic work with her own quartet over four albums.

Friday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

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‘Two Yosemites’ review: mythological quest

Opera Theater Oregon premiere effectively dramatizes a famous camping trip that had a monumental effect on America

I confess to approaching Oregon composer Justin Ralls Two Yosemites: An Environmental Chamber Opera with a few biases and reservations. For one thing, I usually skew more urban than rural in my musical tastes. I like a Gershwin tune (how about you?) and I tire of the pentatonic open-fifth/open-prairie sound pretty quickly. Worse still, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle listening to an environmental opera about my home state while my adopted state is engulfed in flames.

Short and Meyer as Roosevelt and Muir in ‘Two Yosemites.’ Photo: Ted Sweeney.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. The UO doctoral candidate’s music was Copland-esque, sure, and I had a few emotional moments as I reflected on the hundred-year-old argument about whether nature is worth treating with respect (we haven’t figured this out yet? really?). But I ended up enjoying last Friday’s premiere at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel so much that I’ll probably go back for the undoubtedly more epic outdoor premiere at L&C’s Law School Amphitheater this weekend.

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Voice in the Wilderness: opera singer Nicholas Meyer

Childhood friends shape new made-in-Oregon opera 'Two Yosemites'

by ANGELA ALLEN

Nicholas Meyer’s friendship with Justin Ralls began decades before they collaborated on Ralls’s new Two Yosemites opera. The two boys  grew up kicking around the soccer ball in their southeast Portland neighboring ‘hoods of Eastmoreland and Sellwood. They played in the Sellwood Middle School jazz band (Meyer on clarinet, Ralls on drums) and sang in the Cleveland High School award-winning choirs.

Most memorable in their teenage years was their collaboration in Cleveland’s take on the Broadway musical, The Pajama Game, where Meyer performed the lead and Ralls played drums.

Both made the Cleveland junior varsity soccer team, but as they moved into their later teens, sports gave way to music. Their futures dawned, if not in synch, in parallel.

Aaron Short and Nicholas Meyer as Roosevelt and Muir in ‘Two Yosemites.’ Photo: Carole Montarou.

“Justin wanted to write operas in high school,” said Meyer, 29, who will sing the role of John Muir in Ralls’ upcoming Two Yosemites, an “environmental chamber opera” opening on Friday at Lewis & Clark College.

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Composer Justin Ralls: inspired by nature

Oregon composer's environmental chamber opera 'Two Yosemites' represents new direction for Opera Theater Oregon

In 2012, composer Justin Ralls was camping with his father and brother in Yosemite National Park, 12,000 feet up in the Sierras, when a lighting storm erupted above them. “I’d hear that thunder crack, and feel this primal fear,” he remembers. “Experiences like that make you change. My experience reminded me how small I am, how inconsequential we are” compared to nature’s vast scale and power. “Yosemite is a place of creative energy — I feel like music is dripping from the pine needles. I feel inspired by the soundscape and fully alive.”

Justin Ralls in Oregon’s H.J. Andrews National forst.

The California national park is famous as a place of transformation for visitors — including another nature lover: Theodore Roosevelt. Ralls’s new opera, Two Yosemites, which opens this weekend at Lewis & Clark College, tells the story of the 26th President’s 1903 Yosemite camping trip in the company of another American legend, Sierra Club founder John Muir, that inspired him to create the National Park System that preserved Yosemite and other crown jewels of America’s natural legacy. And if Ralls has his way, it will be the first in a series of new chamber orchestras produced by Opera Theater Oregon, the plucky insurgent opera company he and his colleagues now lead.

Inspired by Nature

Making music influenced by the environment is nothing new for Ralls, now a University of Oregon doctoral student whose compositions have been performed around the country, including by Portland’s Third Angle New Music. “The outdoors has always been part of my life,” he says. “I grew up in Oregon and spent every summer camping and hiking all over the state.” He even considered careers in zoology or paleontology before music gradually took precedence in high school, where he drummed in musicals and jazz bands and composed and conducted in Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.

But when Ralls went off to prestigious urban music conservatories in Boston and San Francisco, he experienced “cognitive dissonance,” he recalls. “How do I engage this sophisticated culture with the outdoorsy experiences I identify with? Composing these [nature-inspired] pieces bridged that gap. I feel most alive when I’m composing and when I’m out in the natural environment.”

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Making ‘Two Yosemites’

Oregon composer/naturalist Justin Ralls combines advocacy for wilderness and passion for music in new environmental chamber opera

By GARY FERRINGTON

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch is covering this month’s premiere of Oregon composer Justin Ralls’s new opera Two Yosemites with three stories. This one traces the opera’s evolution from college idea to full production. Stay tuned for profiles of Ralls and singer Nicholas Meyer.

Decisions shaping our nation’s future don’t always originate in the halls of Congress. They can emerge from conversations over a campfire, as happened in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir shared their common passions and differing viewpoints on the future of America’s wilderness while on a three-day trek through California’s spectacular Yosemite Valley.

Justin Ralls learned about that fateful encounter when he was studying at Boston Conservatory, and saw Ken Burns’s National Parks, the PBS documentary about Sierra Club founder Muir and the legacy of public lands and parks in American history. One other element stood out. “The addition of Teddy Roosevelt into the story was even more captivating.” Ralls told ArtsWatch. The two dynamic figures of the American conservation movement “agree on the moral and spiritual necessities of conservation but diverge on philosophical, utilitarian, and political grounds,” Ralls notes.

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt at Glacier Point, 1903. Photo: National Park Service

Muir, the passionate environmental philosopher, strove to protect America’s lands and wildlife from the exploitative impulses of late 19th and early 20th century. President Roosevelt, cognizant of a growing nation’s need for resources, grappled with pressure from commercial interests in conserving wild lands for development.

The Muir-Roosevelt meeting clicked with Ralls as an idea for an opera in which he could combine his “passion for American history, as well as the environment, into a dramatic, mythic, musical story and landscape.”

Now, almost seven years later, his Two Yosemites: An Environmental Chamber Opera premieres this weekend in Portland. This is the story of how the show evolved from idea to fully realized opera.

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Music News & Notes: Operatic evolutions

Opera transitions, jazz laurels, music education, and other news in Oregon music

We went months without rounding up Oregon music news before last month’s N&N — and now, so much keeps happening that we need to do it again! Remember that we often slip news about Oregon music in Bob Hicks’s weekly newsletter and on our Facebook page, and we’re always looking for news about Oregon arts to share with our readers, so please keep us posted.

Opera Theater Oregon’s next stage

Opera Theater Oregon Producing Artistic Director Katie Taylor announced that she’s tossing the keys to the next generation of Oregon upstart opera makers: a collective including composers Justin Ralls and Anne Polyakov, baritone Nicholas Meyer and new music advocate Lisa Lipton. OTO Music Director Erica Melton and Film Director Jen Wechsler will remain with the company. Taylor approached Ralls about assuming leadership of the Portland indie opera company’s during development of an upcoming OTO production of his opera, Two Yosemites, opening this summer.

Meyer (l) and Ralls at a Portland preview recital for Ralls’s upcoming opera, ‘Two Yosemites,’ co-produced by Opera Theater Oregon.

The new leaders intend to “step up to meet the demands of reinvigorating opera in today’s artistic climate,” their press announcement declares. “With fresh ideas, relevant social commentary, and a love of accessible chamber music these new provocateurs plan to make their first opera with OTO a new and engaging experience geared to make an impact. Their first performance will feature a new outdoor opera in late summer. Look out for their newsletters, updates, and performance dates in the next few weeks.”

The transition marks the next step in OTO’s evolution since its 2005 founding by Angela Niederloh and Amy Russell. Under Taylor’s two terms of leadership (2006 to 2011 and 2015–17), the company enlivened the Portland music scene by producing or co-sponsoring visionary, often playful productions of both classic and new operas, often with inventive arrangements and scripts by Taylor (who’ll now turn to finishing up a book and short experimental opers in progress) and Melton. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more information on OTO’s new direction. With relatively new arrivals Cult of Orpheus, Ping & Woof, Opera on Tap, Opera Wildwood Concert Series, and (as we’ve noted in previous stories) new directions for Portland State University’s opera program, Eugene Opera (see below) and Portland Opera, it’s an exciting time for Oregon opera.

Grant prize winner

The national Jazz Journalist Association has named Portland pianist, composer, and professor Darrell Grant as one of its 2017 Jazz Heroes, an award given to people who further the art form of jazz in their communities. Longtime Portland jazz writer Lynn Darroch will present Grant with the award at the Portland Art Museum on April 30 — International Jazz Day. The event includes PDX Jazz’s Incredible Journey of Jazz program and a performance by Grant’s MJ New Quartet, which is touring the Northwest this month.

Pianist and composer Darrell Grant.

Q&A

Speaking of one of Oregon’s most valuable musicians, you can read a fascinating interview with Grant in Chamber Music America magazine. And there’s another informative new interview with a Portland composer, Dan Senn, in asymmetry music magazine, which will particularly interest fans of the influential Fluxus movement of the 1960s. And while we’re linking to good stories about Oregon music, check out long-time Portland classical music writer James Bash’s comprehensive overview of places to catch classical music for little or no cost — a welcome antidote to a problem ArtsWatch has long bemoaned.

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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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