patrick mcculley

New voices of ArtsWatch 2017

A dozen writers have joined the ArtsWatch ranks this year. Find out who they are, and what they're bringing to the cultural mixer.

In one important way it’s been a very good year for Oregon ArtsWatch: We’ve added a lot of good writers to our mix, deepening and broadening our coverage of everything from dance to theater to music to visual arts to literary events and more.

ArtsWatch has been able to add the voices of a dozen new contributors 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.

In 2018 we hope to add even more fresh voices and perspectives to our continuing engagement with Oregon’s complex and diversified cultural life.

Meet 2017’s new writers, from A to Z (all right; A to W), and sample their work:

 


 

TJ Acena

A Portland essayist and journalist who studied creative writing at Western Washington University, TJ was selected as a 2017 Rising Leader of Color in arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He writes about theater and literary events for ArtsWatch, and also contributes to American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to literary journals such as Somnambulist and Pacifica Literary Journal. Web: tjacena.com

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Greg Watanabe with Mao on the wall in “Caught.” Photo: Russell J Young

CAUGHT IN A LIE, OR A TRUTH

Acena reviews the installation and performance Caught at Artists Rep, a play that crosses the line between fact and fiction, fake news and real. “If it feels like there’s something I’m not telling you about Caught, you’re right. Don’t take it at face value: There’s a hidden conceit to the show. But discovering that conceit is what makes Caught compelling.”

 


 

Bobby Bermea

 

A leading actor, director, and producer in Portland and elsewhere, Bobby specializes in deeply reported and insightful profiles of theater and other creative people for ArtsWatch. A three-time Drammy Award winner for his work onstage, he’s also the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy, and Rocket Man.

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Oregon contemporary classical music: Golden age?

Fall concerts offer an unprecedented bounty of homegrown sounds by Oregon composers

We may be entering a golden age for Oregon contemporary classical music. This past fall might have brought Oregon music lovers more new music by Oregon classical composers than any season in history. While some culturally insecure institutions and presenters cling to the old thinking that the only worthwhile new art comes from points east (Europe, New York), more and more presenters and performers are realizing that Oregon is a cultural leader, not a follower — and Oregon composers are delivering music that speaks to us here and now. Here’s a glimpse at some of them (click the links for videos of the Crazy Jane and Cascadia concerts), followed by a look ahead at many more Oregon composer shows approaching, so you can hear homegrown music for yourself.

McCulley, Petak and Olson performed at Cascadia Composers' fall concert.

McCulley, Petak and Olson performed at Cascadia Composers’ fall concert.

Cascadia Composers

The star of the regional composers’ organization’s fall concert, at the University of Portland’s Mago Hunt recital hall, turned out to be saxophonist Patrick McCulley, who gave an astonishingly expressive solo performance of Jack Gabel’s winding Still Dog after All These Years, and joined another Cascadia composer, Jennifer Wright, as comic narrators in Susan Alexjander’s 1990 e. e. Cummings setting Buffalo Bill’s Defunct, another brief delight that was one of my favorite pieces and performances of the night.

McCulley next teamed with pianist Benjamin Milstein in Greg Bartholomew’s protracted In the Language of Meditation, navigating its straightforward and neo-Romantic style (very different from most of the other music on the program) with equal aplomb. McCulley’s spirited alto occasionally overshadowed singer Catherine Olson’s atypically restrained delivery of Elizabeth Blachly-Dyson’s link clever Howl: Etiquette for Artists and Other Social Misfits. The tiny soprano’s confinement behind a music stand somewhat inhibited her often riveting theatrical chops.

Kate Petak played harp in that piece and in Greg Steinke’s One by One, using koto-like textures as she and another saxophonist, Sean Fredenburg, engaged in a kind of chase of melodic wisps. Petak also joined violist Grace Young and flutist Gail Gillespie in Homesick, which Linda Woody wrote for a concert in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of World War II. The beguiling trio of instruments, pioneered by Claude Debussy, made an effective vehicle for the nostalgic moods — by turn wistful, tranquil, and playful — that suited its original inspiration. The combo needed a little more rehearsal to capture all the beauty in the prettiest piece on the program, David Drexler’s 2012 scattered flurries, whose attractive, intricate patterned melodies demanded more precise and assertive playing than offered here.

Milstein, Olson, violinist Casey Bozell and clarinetist Christopher Cox captured the quirky charm of Gary Noland’s engagingly off-center 1994 setting of Jonathan Swift poems, Women Who Cry Apples, the musical equivalent of John Tenniel’s famous Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Bozell in turn joined in an oddball combination of accordion (Kiran Moorty) and vibraphone (Florian Conzetti) in Nicholas Yandell’s intermittently poignant Eventide’s Lament. One reason we mightn’t have heard that combo too often is that it proved hard to balance the sonorities, particularly in louder sections, but despite a couple of stalls, it was one of the more intriguing pieces on a strong program. The concert ended with the sturdiest, Michael Johanson’s potent Toccata, whose opening aggressive stuttering rhythms briefly calmed, like the eye of a hurricane passing over, before concluding with rapid fire fury.

Even with a few rough patches, this was one of the most successful and entertaining concerts I’ve heard from Cascadia Composers, offering a wider variety of musical styles than any other concert in Oregon that week. With quality of both compositions and performances steadily increasing, the group is really on a roll.

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Classical Revolution PDX regular Grace Young plays viola on several works at Sunday's Decomposers Night.

Classical Revolution PDX regular Grace Young plays viola on several works at Sunday’s Decomposers Night.

By JANA HANCHETT

“We delved in this ghoul’s grave with our spades, and how we thrilled at the picture of ourselves, the grave, the pale watching moon, the horrible shadows, the grotesque trees, the titanic bats, the antique church, the dancing death-fires, the sickening odours, the gently moaning night-wind, and the strange, half-heard, directionless baying, of whose objective existence we could scarcely be sure.

—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Hound.

That horridly thrilling tale of grave robbery was the inspiration for this Sunday’s Decomposers Night, a classical-bending, genre-crossing musical production that explores the macabre with intellectual passion.

“We’ve gone a bit darker this year by including music based on both H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe,” says Christopher Corbell, executive director of Classical Revolution PDX, which is presenting the show at downtown Portland’s Star Theater.

“My first exposure to H. P. Lovecraft was an audiobook of short stories when I was on a road trip,” Corbell recalls. “Experiencing ‘The Hound’ in an audio reading was a wonderful introduction to the best of his writing — it’s a conventional horror piece in many ways, but with this wonderful layer of erudition and attention to aesthetics.”

With an eye towards Portland’s 2014 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, CRPDX organized a call for scores inspired by Lovecraft’s creepy tale. Out of 14 compositions submitted from all over the world, Nathan Showell’s score for violin, viola, cello, and clarinet led the pack. The premiere of the nineteen-year-old Reed College student’s composition at Decomposers Night will accompany voice actor Sam Mowry’s reading of “The Hound.” CRPDX hopes to submit a film incorporating Showell’s score and Mowry’s reading to next year’s Lovecraft Festival.

Inspired by Poe’s “The Mask of the Red Death,” the centerpiece of Decomposers Night is Andre Caplet’s 1924 “Conte Fantastique,” which musically illustrates the dramatic irony of unwittingly chasing your own bloody killer. To add to the exotic tone, Caplet (a prize-winning French composer probably best known today for his arrangements of the music of his colleague, Claude Debussy) throws the harp into the midst of a broiling string quartet.

This piece was pivotal in liberating the harp from its traditional role of being a virtuosic but shallow parlor instrument,” explains Kate Petak, the harpist for this concert. “Caplet shows that the harp can successfully convey the darkness, intensity, and mysteriousness needed to set the tone for Poe’s eerie story. It is my hope that modern composers will continue Caplet’s legacy by using the full range of expressions possible on the harp. There’s so much more room for exploration.”

The evening’s revolutionary nature also resounds in collaborations with musical forces outside the classical genre. The concert itself is a prelude to a performance by Church of Hive, a mainstay of Portland’s Goth/Industrial community. In addition, Myrrh Lars, curator of Someday:Incubator and classical musician-turned-dark-wave /rockstar impresario, is teaming up with CRPDX musicians.

“Classical music demonstrates how great passion can be expressed within, and even amplified by, structural constraints,” Larsen says. “Because my own band often incorporates video projections and movement in our rock shows, we also take a very deliberate approach to composition to make sure that all the different aspects of the show come together into something really powerful. It’s awesome to be part of an artistic community in which modern classical music is alive, part of the dialogue of the dark and complicated times we live in.”

Patrick McCulley premiers a new composition at Decomposers Night.

Patrick McCulley premiers a new composition at Decomposers Night.

Three other Oregon music premieres complement Showell and Larsen’s contributions. Created specifically for this Halloween concert by The Waking Guild’s Jason O’Neill-Butler, “Sandman” features one of Petra Delarocha’s gravity-defying aerial performances. Portland pianist and film composer Beth Karp, also a member of The Waking Guild, composed “Things that Go Bump in the Night” for violin, viola, cello, bass, and soprano for Decomposers Night.

Saxophonist Patrick McCulley’s composition “Chaining the Leviathan” draws on classical, jazz, indie rock and experimental music. “My inspiration for this piece came from an excerpt from [J.R.R.] Tolkien’s “Silmarillion” about the chaining of a satanic god figure, Melkor,” says McCulley, whose performance will be accompanied by John C. Worsley’s live illustrations.
“A visual artist uses a drawing program on a laptop and creates an illustration while music is being performed on stage,” explains Corbell. “The whole illustration process is projected live onto a screen behind the performer, often evolving in unexpected ways along with the music. It’s a cool artistic collaboration and often pretty mesmerizing, especially with a talented illustrator like John C. Worsley.

The concert concludes with Portland composer and violinist Mike Hsu’s arrangement of The Cure’s “Lullaby.”

The psychological exploration of darkness is not always easy or welcome, but CRPDX capitalizes on this Halloween season to make this particular concert an anticipated event. “With everything going on in the world, it’s hard to deny that we live in dark times,” says Larsen. “Dark art is a way to acknowledge that, express some of the fear and frustration that goes alongside it, but also to have a little catharsis. In every dark song we play, there’s a glimmer of hope in it, and a punk rock spirit of resistance and defiance that shines through the angst.”

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CRPDX presents Decomposers Night at the Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Avenue, Portland, on Sunday, October 27 at 8 pm. 21+, $10 suggested donation.

Jana Hanchett is a pianist in Portland.

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