oregon historical society

Cascadia Composers reviews: Lights, poetry, music

Concerts seek meaning beyond music through complementary art forms

One of the oldest questions in music — right after “what the hell is music, anyways?” — is how music expresses meaning. We normally think of meaning as a semantic thing, something that can be explained in words and symbols. We can, of course, regard music as a kind of language…but when we think of meaning in music we normally go outside the music itself to something more overtly linguistic. Usually that means lyrics, libretti, and programmatic music based on poems or stories. We also tend to think of musical meaning as being something non- or extra-auditory — paintings, religious iconography, or the physical appearances of performers, conductors, and composers. In the past few months, Cascadia Composers has put on two concerts dealing with these strategies for meaning-making in music: one visual, one linguistic.

Visual Meaning: Desire for the Sacred

January’s Desire for the Sacred concert, hosted at Lewis & Clark College’s sylvan Agnes Flanagan Chapel, was as much light show as concert: performers on several compositions played up in the organ loft while the audience sat enveloped in the colored lights projected all over the chapel’s gorgeous modernist wooden ceiling and its Casavant organ, the world’s only circular pipe organ, its pipes suspended from the chapel’s ceiling in a dense spiral.

The organ in Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

The light show was run by Nicholas Yandell, whose music began each half of the concert. In the opening Dilate; Elucidate, slowly evolving pastels emulated the holy glow of the rising sun and reflected the yearning arpeggiations and pedal notes of the Pacific Northwest’s resident organ god, Dan Miller. After intermission, Yandell’s Hymn of Daybreak resurrected the solar theme, this time with Cheryl Young at the manuals and the sweet longing of Kurt Heichelheim’s distant horn imbuing the chapel with numinous charms.


ArtsWatch Weekly: and all that jazz

Portland Jazz Festival joins the parade of arts festivals in town; a new "Swan Lake" flies at Oregon Ballet

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Festival Town. (And Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day.) Three film celebrations – the Portland Black Film Festival, the Cascadia Festival of African Films, and the big-kahuna 40th annual Portland International Film Festival – are still spooling out stories on screens around town.

And on Thursday the PDX Jazz Festival 2017 roars into action with a packed program through February 26 arranged loosely around an homage to jazz centurions Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich, each born in 1917. Things kick off Thursday with a blast of Branford Marsalis, a thump of bass virtuoso Thundercat, and more, and the festival continues with the likes of the fabulous Heath Brothers, The Yellowjackets, and more. It’s not all old-style and it’s not all new, but a healthy-looking blend of tradition and exploration.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell offers tips for this week’s shows, beginning with Thursday’s Marsalis quartet appearance “with the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Ralph Peterson’s trio in separate shows Friday, the hip jazz-rock fusion band Kneebody and the old-school all-star band The Cookers on Saturday. On Sunday, you have a choice of pop jazzers the Yellowjackets with Mike Stern, avant jazz guitar deity James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, or rising piano star Aminca Claudine Myers (or see all three!).”

2017 PDX Jazz Fest honoree Dizzy Gillespie, at Deauville, France, July 1991. Photo: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia Commons

In his preview PDX Jazz Festival: Signs of Life, Campbell sets the table more completely, talking about the state of jazz in Portland and internationally. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:


ArtsWatch Weekly: wine divine, proscenium live, Comic City USA

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

It’s the middle of August, the temperature’s flirting with triple digits, and the city sidewalks are getting hot enough to grill a veggie burger on. Time to get out of town. And if you’re going to get out of town, why not to wine country? This weekend marks the beginning of another Oregon summer music festival – a small one, but with some fine musicians and refreshing repertoire. It’s also a great excuse, if you really need one, to hit some good wineries.

The brand new Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival kicks off Friday night with a concert in the barrel room at J. Christopher Wines (think cool, like a cave) near Newberg, continues with free open rehearsals noon-3 p.m. Saturday at Artisanal Cellars in downtown Newberg, and concludes with a Sunday afternoon concert at Elk Cove Vineyards, one of the region’s most picturesque, near Gaston.

Music at the wineries: a new Oregon chamber festival goes for the gusto.

Music at the wineries: a new Oregon chamber festival goes for the gusto.

Who’ll you hear? Violist Kenji Bunch, one of Portland’s busiest composer/performers; Boston violinist (and Portland native) Sasha Callahan and her husband, cellist Leo Eguchi, who’s worked with the likes of William Bolcom and Lukas Foss; and violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis, who grew up in Portland and, among other credits, has performed with Yo-Yo Ma and toured with Jethro Tull. What’ll you hear? Two different programs including works by Bunch, Zoltan Kodaly, the contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, and, just to keep things grounded, Schubert’s Rosamunde string quartet and Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1 string quartet.

Plus, of course, there’ll be wine.



PROSCENIUM LIVE. Then again, if you stick around town, this is a very good bet: some of the city’s top actors doing staged readings of a hefty handful of new plays by writers including Amy Freed, noted for the likes of Freedomland, The Beard of Avon, and The Monster Builder. Sponsored by Proscenium Journal in partnership with Portland Shakespeare Project, it runs for four days starting Thursday at Artists Repertory Theatre, and it’s free – which, as the late, great Portland TV pitchman Tom Peterson used to proclaim, “is a very good price.”

The full-length plays: C.S. Whitcomb’s Dracula’s Father, Freed’s Them That Are Perfect, Ellen Margolis’s Pericles Wet. Friday night’s one-act showcase includes pieces by Freed, Wei He, Simon Fill, and others.

Reading frenzy: good actors, new scripts at Proscenium Live. David Kinder, kinderpics photography, www.kinderpics.com

Reading frenzy: good actors, new scripts at Proscenium Live. David Kinder, kinderpics photography, www.kinderpics.com



TBA 16. The fourteenth edition of Time-Based Art Festival, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual feeding frenzy of the new, the brash, the edgy, and the provocative from the worlds of performance art, visual art, film & video, dance, and multidisciplines, doesn’t run until September 8-18. But tickets and passes go on sale starting today (Tuesday, August 16), and some shows go fast: time to check the attractions, make your plans, and score your seats.


Spring has Sprung Gallery Guide

April is Portland Photo Month, but what's sculpture got to do with it?

April is Photolucida’s 5th Annual Portland Photo Month! There are many fine events and exhibitions to take part in over the next few weeks, so keep in mind the ones I mention here are only the tip of the photoberg!

Newspace Center for Photography is showing 70 portraits by Jake Shivery, North Portland native, to coincide with the release of his first monograph, which shares its title, Contact, with the exhibition series. These portraits of locals “show affection for Portland area [and its] residents.” Fittingly, the photo-oeuvre is being published by a local publishing house, One Twelve Publishing. There will be several events in conjunction with the exhibition, including an opening reception and book release on Friday, April 3. Saturday, April 18, you’ll have an opportunity to “drink with Jake” and support the Newspace mission, which will be immediately followed by a book reading artist that’s free and open to the public. Through April 26.

Re-flection by Teresa Christiansen at Pushdot Studio.

Re-flection by Teresa Christiansen at Pushdot Studio.

Natural Selections, at Pushdot Studio, will be a show of images by Teresa Christiansen from her series ‘Real Artifice.’ Her work grabbed my eye for the way she juxtaposes objects alongside and as a part of photographic backdrops and landscapes. We’re having a sculptural photography moment, but this work stands out for her use of eye-popping color and everyday objects. Opening reception is Friday, April 3 from 6-8pm. Through May 29th.

How Do I Look? isn’t a question we’ve always been able to answer with selfies. The Oregon Historical Society presents an exhibition showcasing the diversity of 19th Century photography. It’s not all pin-hole cameras and hiding under hoods, as you were taught in grade school! The exhibition will include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, carte-de-visite, cabinet cards, and stereoviews. Don’t know what most of those words mean, and couldn’t tell someone the difference between them even if you did? Great, I’ll see you there! Through May 2.

Back to the present, Camerawork Gallery brings us works by Martin Gremm, who’s concerned with Surveillance. Photography, which originated from our desire to capture with absolute fidelity the world as we see it, also functions as a means of recording our location, dependent as the medium is on time. As our phones, cameras, games, and networks collapse even closer together, how comfortable are we with how our physical selves are increasingly tracked by remote satellite technology and represented as digital traces?  Through April 24th.

In addition, the Pacific Northwest Photography Drawers at Blue Sky Gallery presents its new crop of juried, public archive of original prints by regional contemporary photographers. And keep Thursday, April 23 open for the Photolucida Photo Walk!


Sex by Hideyuki Katsumata at Hellion

Sex by Hideyuki Katsumata at Hellion

Hellion – presents Hide in My Brain with Hideyuki Katsumata, an artist who “makes art to connect with the universe.” Whether that means something new age and spiritual, or is trendy artists speak, the work on display reflects a unique vision of alien figures that exude sexuality, and are influenced by cubism. In fact, you’re not really sure whether his figures are seducing you, or challenging you to a fight to the death, but they certainly raise the stakes and draw you in. Opening this 1st Thursday, April 2 from 6-8pm.


Florem Lacusnymphe by Hannah Newman at Pond Gallery

Florem Lacusnymphe by Hannah Newman at Pond

Pond – The notion that an eternal wilderness, a forever out-of-reach Eden, is waiting for us to arrive to pluck its lush fruit is a concept that drives our most unsustainable development. There will be more, they say, and something more beautiful than what we are destroying for strip malls. Of course they’re wrong. This life on this earth is the beautiful gem we’re supposed to be protecting, but how do we go about our lives with this knowledge and no clear way of taking a new direction? This month, Pond Gallery presents Grove, a curated, six-artist exhibition exploring these perspectives opening on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 and running through May 17th, 2015.

Floor Scraper by Mario Gallucci at OneGrand Gallery

Floor Scraper by Mario Gallucci at OneGrand

OneGrand – Earlier I mentioned that we’re in the midst of a sculptural photography moment. Counterfeit Universe is the third exhibition this month that makes my case for a pattern, and not just mere coincidence. Mario Gallucci’s work is about the copy of a copy, which is a great idea to explore in our 21st century world of endless digital repetition. How do you determine the original, or is the original passe? Do the endless copies strengthen or weaken the idea the original conveys, or is its own repetition idea enough? And how do we deal with all of this when corporations are trying to sell to us enter the picture? While you should be on the look out for “tricks and illusions,” I don’t think these are your grandfather’s trompe-l’œil paintings, even if the work is proudly work in that vein. Opening reception Friday, April 4 at 7.



Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have intriguing shows beyond the scope of this brief guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!


The Kingsmen play the FBI’s favorite song at the Oregon Historical Society. Credit: Kelsey M Curtis.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem,” proclaimed Kingsmen singer Dick Peterson as Thursday afternoon’s version of Portland’s legendary garage band exploded into the riff that launched a zillion dance moves of questionable sobriety. The band’s hit version of “Louie Louie” was recorded almost half a century ago a few blocks from the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon History Museum, where this concert kicked off Oregon Rocks!, a retrospective exhibit surveying the history of the city’s music scene. The group for this performance included Phil Volk, of Paul Revere & the Raiders, who also recorded “Louie Louie” in the same Portland studio around the same time.The Kingsmen’s set was preceded by a deliciously lively and smooth performance by veteran Portland R&B singer Ural Thomas, who glided around the mike stand in OHS’s plaza under the afternoon sun like a musician a third his age. His voice sounded every bit as clear as it must have four decades ago when he was opening for the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, or before that with his 1950s Portland group, the Montereys.

Although I did get to hear Portland Mayor Sam Adams read a proclamation about Portland music, I had to miss later sets by Quasi and Pierced Arrows. But Thomas and the Kingsmen’s performances alone were worth the admission price, especially considering that the latter had no doubt played the rock standards (“Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Money,” “Twist and Shout” etc.) in this set hundreds of times, and the drummer was apparently a last minute fill-in who had to make a quick duct tape repair of his drum head. The rockers delivered familiar chords with real enthusiasm and punch, and the crowd smiled appreciatively.

One of the broadest smiles adorned the visage of filmmaker Marc Moscato, the 35-year-old visionary behind Portland’s Dill Pickle Club, which spearheaded this tribute concert. I hereby nominate Moscato for honors in the Civic History category of the mythical Most Valuable Portlander Awards I think should be given out each year. (Admittedly, competition is stiff in that particular slot: the Architectural Heritage Foundation, writers Randy Gragg and Brian Libby, et al.)

Over the last couple years, Portland’s DPC has sponsored tours about Works Progress Administration-era art in Portland, where our food comes from, how the city works, the history of Old Town/Chinatown (in partnership with Friends of Portland Chinatown), where power comes from, and more. DPC has also created Oregon History Comics, published books (including Northwest Passage: 50 Years of Independent Music from the Rose City), started the PDX Re Print lecture series that celebrates out-of-print books about the city, and partnered with Portland public schools. The tours and events I’ve attended attracted participants across the age spectrum, with most probably in their 20s and 30s.

DPC and OHS deserve kudos for focusing this time on Oregon’s arts scene. And it underlines the importance of preserving, celebrating, and reactivating that history. Thanks to this event, I would pay money to hear Ural Thomas, who I missed during his Jumptown glory days, sing again, but history lives on even when its protagonists don’t. The extinct bands and performers showcased in OHS’s Oregon Rocks! deserve to be recognized because they brought joy and contemplation and pathos and dancing and so much more to thousands of Oregonians.


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