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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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MusicWatch bi-Weekly: holiday traditions

Oregon serenades 2017 to an end — and none too soon — with Celtic, French, Spanish, Indian and more music from across the globe and the centuries

While everyone hunkers down for the holidays, the music plays on, but not nearly as often as usual, so MusicWatch is taking the rest of the year off as part of its musical fasting treatment for 2017’s overindulgence in Oregon’s musical overabundance. Meanwhile, here’s a few solstice-brighteners to take us through the end of the year.

In Mulieribus

Tickets have long been sold out for Wednesday’s “Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Gloria,” a historically informed performance of a pair of Italian baroque classics by the period instrument performers (from Portland Baroque Orchestra and others in the region) presented by Northwest Baroque Masterworks at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, but click the link above and see if someone cancels. One of the best shows of every holiday season, though, In Mulieribus’s annual concert, does have seats available. On Wednesday at Vancouver’s Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater and on Friday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the sublime Portland women’s vocal ensemble this time takes a French twist, with medieval carols, nativity songs and other music from the Renaissance and earlier by Binchois, Dufay, England’s John Taverner, and more.

Another annual Oregon holiday tradition, if a five-year run can qualify for that status, comes to a close Friday when Mark O’Connor and his 2017 Grammy winning musical family band bring their final Appalachian Christmas show to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives, who wrote about it for ArtsWatch last year, returns, and another family, the Seattle (O’Connor’s hometown) trumpet and piano team of Allen and Laura Vizzutti open for the multi-Grammy award winner who may be the world’s greatest fiddler, who’s played with many of the planet’s finest musicians and again brings his Americana-tinged holiday tunes to Oregon one last time.

Speaking of Americana holidays, Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays seasonal tunes at Portland’s luminous Festival of Lights at the gorgeous Grotto on Saturday. Lots of other bands and choirs are performing there throughout the holidays, so click the link to check ‘em out.

ArtsWatch has covered this combined music and theater event elsewhere, but here’s another reminder to catch the merry pianist and Liberace channeler David Saffert with Jillian Snow Harris in A Liberace & Liza Christmas at Portland’s Coho Theater December 21-30, with guest artists including singer Susannah Mars, star thespian Isaac Lamb, and more.

Next week at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s annual day after-Christmas concert takes a mostly Spanish turn with music Enrique Granados adapted from his piano pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings, Goyescas; Albeniz’s musical depiction of Seville’s famous Corpus Christi Day procession, and some of the finest ballet music of the 20th century, a suite from Manuel de Falla’s colorful The Three Cornered Hat. An unrelated bonus: music from John Williams’s score to the reptilian screen classic Parque Jurassic. 

On December 30-31 at Portland’s Community Music Center, another annual holiday music tradition, Oregon Renaissance Band’s holiday concert, goes all Celtic, with a baker’s dozen specialists on wonderful archaic instruments like sackbutts, viola da gamba, cornamusen, krummhorns, racketts, tartold, bagpipes, spinettino, tabor, and even early recorders and violins playing and singing ancient tunes by Turlough O’Carolan, William Byrd, John Playford, Thomas Weelkes and more.

South India’s Carnatic tradition is just as venerable as all these European early music shows, and Oregon is fortunate to boast a family of musicians whose lineage on the beautiful, ancient long-necked veena lute stretches back eleven generations. Renowned India born veena virtuosi Sreevidhya Chandramouli and Chandramouli Narayanan join their sons Kapila and Sushruta Chandramouli and ghatam (clay pot) percussion master Ravi Balasubramanian December 30 for a Carnatic classical concert at Portland’s Christ United Methodist Church.

The Oregon Symphony plays music from Beethoven’s Symphony #9 on New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

On December 30 and New Year’s Eve at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, “Pink Martini New Year’s Extravaganza” returns with Portland’s own retro-Latin-Euro big band’s annual joint venture with the Oregon Symphony, now expanded to three performances, but tickets remain for only the last, late night bash. Along with orchestra-enhanced hits from throughout Pink Martini’s career and recent CD Je Dis Oui!, the Oregon Symphony will perform the glorious final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #9.

For a smaller scale NYE, catch Portland’s venerable Florestan Trio, 41 years old and counting, as they precede a champagne and dessert reception with an hour of chamber music classics by Franck (from his famous violin sonata, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Falla and more at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall.

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

The Christmas myth is many things, but one of them involves a resurrection story, which should resonate with fans of Eugene Opera, which just arose from its most recent near-death experience. Its New Year’s Eve opera buffa, Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville, also has some here-and-now resonance, with its story of a powerful older man trying to coerce a much younger woman into an abusive relationship. Eugene Opera’s cast mixes a pair of Met vets (baritone Malcolm MacKenzie and mezzo Heather Johnson) with local stars Jake Gardner, Bill Hulings, recent arrival Craig Phillips (the New York Polyphony singer now at the UO) and more, all conducted by Andrew Bisantz, who’s added the title of artistic director to his EO portfolio. Maybe the triumph of true love over sexual predation will get 2018 off to a better start than the year it’s replacing.

After some post holiday dieting, the slimmer, sleeker MusicWatch will return in 2018, and don’t worry, in the meantime, ArtsWatch will have a few other music stories to tingle your ears as we bid a pffft! farewell to a troubled year. Meanwhile, here’s a new video from Oregon singer Marti Mendenhall to put you in the holiday mood.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

MusicWatch Weekly: with a little help from their friends

Collaborations decorate Oregon concert stages this weekend

December is a terrible time to go on a diet. Look at last week’s MusicWatch, which relapsed into obesity after the previous week’s promise to slim down. Oregon just offers too many rich  musical treats this time of year. So we’re making a New Year’s resolution to make these previews more easily digestible.

Speaking of slimming down, how about a multi-course meal featuring a single entree? That’s what famed fiddler Christian Tetzlaff will deploy Saturday when he plays all of JS Bach’s magnificent solo partitas and sonatas for violin at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

Over at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge on Friday, San Francisco-based guitarist/ producer/ composer/ electronic musician Christopher Willits wraps you in his Envelop technology: an immersive, software-driven multi-speaker setup that allows you to experience the full spatial effects of his new ambient Horizon album. Willits has released over two dozen albums, worked with atmospheric musicians like Tycho and Ryuichi Sakamoto, created open source software to advance his sonic vision and even teaches meditation as well as enabling it through his ambient sounds.

Unlike Willits and Tetzlaff’s shows, many of this week’s concerts involve teamwork. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral welcomes lots of musical friends for Friday’s annual Christmas Concert & Wassail Party, featuring  Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon leading some of Portland’s top singers and members of the Oregon Symphony in Ottorino Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Benjamin Britten’s lovely Ceremony of Carols, music by Giovanni Gabrieli and John Rutter and more.

Enjoy holiday music and wassail at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Friday.

Cappella Romana’s holiday concert, A Byzantine Christmas: Sun of Justice, features early and contemporary Greek, Arabic and English seasonal sacred music chanted by some of the world’s finest performers of this mesmerizing repertoire, drawn from across North America, plus Lebanese star soloist John (Rassem) El Massih. They’re performing Thursday at Salem’s Blanchet High School, Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Sunday at Gresham’s St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, and on their new CD of this music.

Big Horn Brass’s always fun The Night Before Christmas Sunday afternoon at Mt. Hood Community College Theater this year brings the fine Portland blues singer LaRhonda Steele to join the band in its annual brassy renditions of holiday classics. And that same night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony’s Comfort and Joy program with its own new guest, Hillsboro’s revitalized Oregon Chorale, includes prime cuts from JS Bach’s Christmas Cantata, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and lots of familiar seasonal songs.

On Saturday, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus brings its “Most Wonderful Season” program to Eugene’s First United Methodist Church. The award-winning 150-voice chorus knows all about cultural oppression, so instead of focusing on a single religious tradition, this concert presents songs celebrating not only Christmas but other seasonal holidays including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and the New Year.

On Sunday afternoon at the Hult Center, the Eugene Symphony is the backing band for Cirque de la Symphonie, which combines colorful, spectacular acrobatics with seasonal classical music like those ever-ebullient dances from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, “Sleigh Ride,” and more.

On the jazzier side, a pair of Portland’s finest funky jazz institutions, Trio Subtonic and guitarist Dan Balmer, release their new collaborative CD at their show Saturday night at Portland’s Goodfoot, with help from Seattle jazz organ trio McTuff.

Another pair of popular Portland jazz masters, singers Rebecca Kilgore and Mia Nicholson, join forces tonight at Portland’s Jack London Revue. And Friday at McMenamins Mission Theater, guitarist Chance Hayden celebrates the half century anniversary of a famous album made before he was born: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

There’s so, so many more musical treats to feast on this winter week, but we’re on a diet! So you’ll just have to pack more musical nutrition into the comments section below, where it doesn’t count against our word limit.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

MusicWatch Weekly: updating traditions

Holiday happenings and more music on Oregon stages this week

It’s December, and time for the annual Battle of the Messiahs. This year, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed performances on period instruments seem to have vanquished all Portland pretenders, but fans of anachronistically modern instruments and oversized venues can still find their seasonal bliss in Eugene.

Other holiday choral concerts this year offer refreshingly diverse and modern music for the season, including Choral Arts Ensemble’s mostly 21st century show, Oregon Repertory Singers’ 20th century program, and Portland Chamber Orchestra’s multicultural menu. There’s actually some non-holiday oriented music too, and if you’d like to recommend other Oregon musical events to our readers, please avail yourself of the comments section, infra.

“(Music) for a Time and Space”
Portland-based interdisciplinary artist and composer Ben Glas’s exhibition, which opens Thursday, “explores intently ideas of spatial compositions, alternative modes of hearing and subjective sonic experiences as guided by tonal interactions in space.”
Thursday, Variform Gallery, Everett Station Lofts, Portland.

Korgy & Bass
Drummer/composer Barra Brown (Shook Twins, Ages and Ages, Barra Brown Quintet) and bassist/beatmaker Alex Meltzer’s (Coco Columbia, Two Planets) sample-based beat music definitely draws on jazz, but also takes into the 21st century by incorporating influences from house and other electronica and dance music.
Thursday, Bombs Away, Corvallis; Friday, Hi-Fi Lounge, Eugene; Saturday, Wonder Ballroom, Portland.

Messiah
Even performed on anachronistic modern instruments by Eugene Symphony and Chorus, Handel’s glorious oratorio is a stirring experience, no matter how many times you’ve heard its famous tunes, including — hallelujah! — That One. There will be a harpsichord, though, manned by music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, who’ll direct the performance.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Messiah
Each holiday season, various Portland groups stage Handel’s stirring Baroque masterpiece, and as always, Portland Baroque Orchestra’s historically informed version, played on authentic instruments and in tunings the composer would recognize, is the truest. Paul Agnew sings tenor and conducts PBO, a quartet of Juilliard-trained vocal soloists, and Portland’s own great choir, Cappella Romana. The first three performances are the full meal deal, and there’s a Monday performance of highlights only.
Friday through Monday, First Baptist Church, Portland.

Cappella Romana joins Portland Baroque Orchestra in Handel’s “Messiah.”

Choral Arts Ensemble
The choir goes beyond the usual recycling of tired holiday perennials to offer a broader, more modern musical appreciation of winter and the myth of the mother of God by by some of the finest late 20th/early 21st century choral composers: John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, and Stephen Chatman. The splendidly diverse program also includes Mexican and Spanish seasonal carols (including some devoted to the major Latin American holiday, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) and classic compositions by Baroque boss Antonio Vivaldi and Renaissance master Francisco Guerrero.
Friday-Saturday, St. Andrew Catholic Church, 806 NE Alberta St. Portland.

Portland Chamber Orchestra
Abetted by the excellent Portland Persian/Middle Eastern ensemble Shabava, PCO’s multicultural holiday show includes Kurdish, Spanish-Sephardic, French-Moroccan, Swedish and other music, which they’ve quilted into a single multifarious musical tapestry inspired by the structure of Handel’s Messiah. 
Friday, New Song Church, Portland, and Saturday, St. Anne’s Chapel Marylhurst University.

Northwest Community Gospel Choir sings with the Oregon Symphony.

Gospel Christmas
Oregon Symphony and Northwest Community Gospel Choir’s ever-popular annual show featuring holiday favorites usually sells out, so get your tickets pronto!
Friday-Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers
For four decades, the big choir’s annual Glory of Christmas concert has offered enough traditional tunes and singalongs to satisfy the purists while also including less frequently heard but no less enjoyable and intriguing modern music. Along with new and old carol arrangements, this year’s edition includes new music by America’s most esteemed living choral composer, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen and several 20th century masterpieces, by Benjamin Britten’s (the English composer’s beautiful A Ceremony of Carols), Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, portions of American composer Randall Thompson’s Frostiana: Seven Country Songs, and winter-themed songs by revered Estonian choral composer Veljo Tormis, who died earlier this year.
Friday and Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: no leftovers

This week's Oregon concerts, with trimmings

MusicWatch has a confession to make: it seriously overindulged at last week’s holiday table. In truth, MusicWatch has been putting on the preview poundage (the freshman 1500?) quite a bit since leaving parental supervision for its own place, so ArtsWatch paterfamilias Barry Johnson staged a needed intervention, placing MusicWatch on a strict 800-word limit (and eventually 500, but we can’t go, uh, cold turkey right off the bat) until it slims down to the concision of  A.L Adams’s svelte DramaWatch or achieves the noble balanced proportions Jamuna Chiarini’s ample DanceWatch. If you want to add your own garnishes, please do so in the comments section, where they won’t count against the word limit or MusicWatch’s waistline.

Legends of the Celtic Harp
Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter combine Celtic and English seasonal music (using three Celtic Harps, Swedish nyckelharpa, fiddle, bandura, bouzouki) and stories including A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a chapter from The Wind in the Willows, and passages from Shakespeare, Yeats, and Thomas Hardy.
Friday, Cerimon House, Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performs its holiday show this weekend.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and other seasonal songs.
Friday-Sunday, Newmark Theater, Portland.

Cinderella
Portland State’s acclaimed opera program presents a piano quartet operetta of the classic fairy tale concocted from vintage German and French songs. Stay turned for Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-Dec. 17, PSU Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Oregon Symphony and Andre Watts
Scandinavian sounds by Grieg, Nielsen, Sibelius, and fellow Finn Joonas Kokkonen.
Friday, Smith Auditorium, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Andre Watts performs with the Oregon Symphony.

Soror Mystica
ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX’s latest ritual music/ theater/ dance/film/performance art creation (See Mitch Ritter’s ArtsWatch review of the company’s earlier Bardoville.) Friday-Sunday, Performance Works NW, Portland.

ISing
The annual free concert (with donations benefiting a good cause) features familiar carols with 80 voice choir, a brass octet, taiko drums, kotos and massive organ.
Friday and Sunday, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ 5150 SW Watson, Beaverton, and Saturday,
St. Peter Catholic Church, 8623 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland.

Beaverton’s iSing chorus used video in its winter 2013 concert.

“Singin’ in the Rain”
Peg Major directs, Robert Ashens conducts and Caitlin Christopher choreographed The Shedd’s original production of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s 1985 stage adaptation of their classic film comedy about 1920s silent film stars making the turbulent transition to talkies.
Friday-Dec. 17, The Shedd, Eugene.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
For decades beginning in 1951, American composer Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved one-act opera was a perennial holiday treat on NBC television. Thanks to Menotti’s appealing score and story about three kings, a family, and a series of miracles, Amahl is still the most frequently produced opera in the world — a family friendly holiday performance presented by one of Oregon’s finest chamber vocal groups, The Ensemble of Oregon, composed of top singers from the city’s big choirs.
Saturday-Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Avenue, Portland.

Christina & Michelle Naughton
Along with European classics by Debussy and Ravel (his enchanting child-inspired Mother Goose music), Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky, the award-winning sibling duo pianists play 20th century American music, including delights by wild card Conlon Nancarrow, John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction, and Paul Schoenfield’s Five Days from the Life of a Manic Depressive.
Saturday & Sunday, Portland State University, Lincoln Hall.

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MusicWatch Weekly: transformations

This week's Oregon concerts feature music that transforms words into music, one kind of music into other kinds, stories into music, and more.

Eugene Symphony
Maybe the best known violin virtuoso in his time was Niccolo Paganini, the early 19th century Italian phenom whose reputation for flashy performances enchanted audiences but also overshadowed his compositions (for guitar and violin) after he died. Simone Porter, a 20-year-old rising star from Seattle joins the orchestra for Paganini’s dazzling first violin concerto from 1818. The orchestra also plays Dvorak’s dark, dramatic seventh symphony and Berlioz’s sizzling Roman Carnival Overture.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Ari Shapiro
The NPR newsman, Portland native and occasional Pink Martini guest vocalist brings his new Homeward project, featuring  his stories and songs (accompanied by veteran Portland musicians including at least one regular Pink Martini chanteuse) that Shapiro found were important to displaced people he’s interviewed in far-flung lands.
Thursday-Saturday, World Trade Center #2, 121 SW Salmon, Portland.

Ari Shapiro performs this weekend in his hometown.

Reed Orchestra Concert: In Remembrance
In memory of three of their fellow students who died last year — Mara Gibbs, Nico Villarreal, and Max hero Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche — the students play a free concert of appropriate music: Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, and the Unfinished Symphony by another composer who, like Purcell, died too young.
Thursday, Kaul Auditorium, 3203 Southeast Woodstock, Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra
When you think of the great cities of Baroque music, Dublin doesn’t leap to mind. Turns out, the Irish city drew famous performers and composer like Handel and Geminiani, both of whom have works on PBO’s bassoon-boosted program this weekend, along with Vivaldi and others. The ensemble’s own crack bassoonist, Nate Helgeson, joins guest director Peter Whelan in a two-bassoon concerto (transformed from a two-cello concerto) and more.
Friday-Saturday, First Baptist Church, 1110 S.W. Taylor St. and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, 3203 S.E. Woodstock Blvd. Portland.

Ronn McFarlane rocks the Portland Guitar Society Friday.

Ronn McFarlane
The ace lutenist, Baltimore Consort stalwart, and Portland resident gives a too-rare hometown recital, including Renaissance, Baroque, Celtic, and his own splendid original music.
Friday, Marylhurst University’s Wiegand Hall, 17600 SW Pacific Highway, Marylhurst.

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Piano star Andreas Klein takes the solo spotlight in Beethoven’s spectacular Piano Concerto #4, and the orchestra also plays a Beethoven overture and a neglected 20th century masterpiece: the Variaciones Concertantes by Argentina’s most venerated composer, Alberto Ginastera, whose frenzied conclusion was inspired by the dueling cowboy dances of Argentine gauchos.
Friday, First United Methodist Church, and Sunday, Reynolds High School Performing Arts Center, Portland.

Nonsense: The Fantastical Musical Multiverses of Daniel Brugh
In Cascadia Composers concerts over the years, Dan Brugh has forged a distinctive aesthetic, at once a kind of mad genius of Portland contemporary classical music as well as a composer whose music reaches beyond the traditional classical audience to embrace electronic textures, audience-appealing stage sensibility, and 21st century artistic ambition. This free concert taking place in an appropriately offbeat venue (a Portland design firm) includes three keyboardists, singer, clarinet, narrator, contemporary dance (courtesy of Portland’s Agnieszka Laska Dancers), unusual tunings and sounds, colorful synth wizardry, absurdist poetry, and even flying fish.
Saturday, The Place, 735 NW 18th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: sounds of home — and beyond

Music from Ukraine, Russia, Mali, France, Spain, and even Oregon highlight the week in Oregon music

This week’s Oregon music highlights amount to a world tour. Got more recommendations? Please add to the comments section below.

Cascadia Composers presents Bernstein/Steinke & Friends
Two of Oregon’s most venerable composers celebrate their 75th birthdays with a range of chamber music.  Delgani String Quartet plays Steinke’s Songs of the Fire Circles, inspired by Native American poet K’os Naahaabii, and (with Steinke on oboe) music inspired by paintings by Marc Lifschey. Bernstein is represented by his Sunlight and Shadow for flute, clarinet and piano, revised September Soundscape for viola and piano, Musical Mirages for piano, and Threading Light for flute and piano.
Friday. Portland State University, Lincoln Hall Room 75 – 1620 SW Park Ave.

Fandango!
The multinational Chicago-based chamber ensemble, the latest addition to Friends of Chamber Music’s entertaining Not-So-Classical series, arranges danceable classics and commissions new works for their versatile flute-cello-guitar-violin lineup. Two of the members comprise the excellent Cavatina Duo, which plays this game quite delightfully too. This menu of music by Vivaldi, Falla, Rachmaninoff, Boccherini, Balkan and a contemporary trio by American composer Alan Thomas inspired by the richly diverse music of the Sephardic Jews as they migrated throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Balkans, makes a tasty program for casual classical and world music fans as well as Baroque aficionados.
Friday, The Old Church, Portland.

DakhaBrakha performs at Portland’s Star Theater. Photo: Tetyana Vasylenko.

Habib Koité & DakhaBrakha
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the great Malian singer and guitar virtuoso brought together many of the musically fertile country’s disparate musical traditions, added a dash of Western rock, and his exuberant Afrobeat performances and recordings soon brought awards, world tours, gigs with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, etc. Lately he’s jettisoned drum kit for the African instruments djembe and calabash, and added a banjo (an instrument that originated in Africa). He sings in four languages, including English, about social issues like war, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, but also happier subjects like soccer — all with a gentle, pulsating groove.

While DakhaBrakha’s three female singers have collected traditional folk songs from elderly women in villages around their native Ukraine, they venture way beyond ethnomusicology, with other members wielding cello, percussion (including tabla), didgeridoo, and other decidedly untraditional instruments. The Kyiv-based band incorporates dub, hip hop, African music and much more, melding roots music with a contemporary, urban sensibility that includes influences from punk, theater (including traditional costumes), minimalism, and politics.
Friday, Star Theater, Portland.

Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie
Gardner’s glowing voice and Asherie’s supple pianism have attracted critical raves over the last decade on New York’s cabaret scene. Their alluring new release The Late Set covers “American Songbook” standards written between around 1920 and 1960. Expect tunes (seldom the most-covered ones) from Rodgers & Hart, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and other stalwarts.
Thursday, Jazz Clubs NW, North Bend; Saturday, The Shedd, Eugene; Sunday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra plays two shows in Portland.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra
Its name reveals this big band’s spacy Sun Ra influence, but the band also draws inspiration from other 20th century big bands including Duke Ellington, Parliament/Funkadelic and Art Ensemble of Chicago. The band claims it has included “Irish fiddlers, AACM refugees, Afro-punk rejects, unrepentant be-boppers, feminist rappers, jitterbugging doowoppers, loud funk-a-teers and rodeo stars of the digital divide.” This time, they’ll “caramelize” a famous jazz album of the early civil rights era: drummer/bandleader Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.
Saturday, Jack London Revue, Portland.

Chris Rogerson at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015. Photo: Lisa Wang.

Oregon Symphony 
The orchestra kicks off its new, year-long socially conscious Sounds of Home series, which combines non-musical elements with the music in response to timely social issues, with a concert focusing on immigration. Acclaimed pianist Kirill Gerstein plays a pair of piano concertos, one written by an immigrant, pioneering early 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg, who fled Europe for America when the Nazis came, and the other, Rhapsody in Blue, by an immigrant’s son, George Gershwin. Gerstein’s jazz jazz background should come in handy in that one. And the orchestra commissioned the impressive young composer Chris Rogerson, who’s impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences in recent years, to collaborate with award-winning immigrant playwright Dipika Guha on a new work, premiered in this show, that focuses on the immigrant experience.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Negative Press Project
The Bay Area piano and bass duo (Andrew Lion and Ruthie Dineen) bring their fascinating tribute to late, great singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Buckley to Oregon.
You don’t have to be a Buckley fan to enjoy it.
Saturday, Alberta Street Pub, Portland; Sunday, Jazz Station, Eugene, and Monday, Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Drive, Bend.

Vancouver Symphony
There’s a Russian flavor to the VSO show, with Russian-American pianist Alexander Toradze soloing in 20th century Russian master Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and the orchestra also playing Mussorgsky’s Persian Dances and suites from two of Stravinsky’s most enchanting ballet scores, The Fairy’s Kiss and The Firebird.
Saturday & Sunday, Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 NW 139th Street, Vancouver WA.

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