portland gay men’s chorus

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: 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.

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.

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.


MusicWatch Weekly: local, vocal and more

A selection of this week's Oregon music highlights

Fans of choral and vocal music have some solid choices this week in Oregon music, and so do locavore consumers of homegrown music, jazz aficionados and more. Please add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Choro in Schola
Portland State prof Ethan Sperry and his distinguished predecessor, OAW contributor Bruce Browne, conduct 75 of the best student singers selected from 14 high schools in Vancouver, Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham. Under the tutelage of some of the state’s finest professional singers, they’ll sing music by William Byrd, Peter Warlock, and other composers. A new feature this year: seven interns from the high schools who’ve been working with the pro singers will join their teachers on several works. Read my ArtsWatch story about last year’s CIS performance and Jana Hanchett’s ArtsWatch story about this important Oregon arts education organization.
Wednesday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

Bruce Browne with Choro in Schola singers.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
Best known outside the jazz world for his work with Donny McCaslin’s band on David Bowie’s valedictory Blackstar album, the drummer/composer has also worked with some of jazz’s most forward looking stars, and is known for incorporating electronic elements into his work. Two shows.
Wednesday, Fremont Theater, Portland.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”
Read my ArtsWatch review of this production’s Portland stop earlier this year.
Wednesday-Sunday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Northwest Art Song and The Ensemble 
Superb soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, accompanied by pianist Susan McDaniel, sing settings of poetry written by women composed by some of today’s finest female composers: Libby Larsen, Stacy Garrop, Juliana Hall, and Abbie Betinis.
Saturday, Beall Hall, University of Oregon, and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1314 SW Park Ave. Portland.

Arwen Myers and Laura Beckel Thoreson perform in Eugene and Portland.

Delgani String Quartet, Cascadia Composers
Two of Oregon’s most valuable exponents of new, homegrown music join forces in a program of contemporary sounds by Eugene’s Paul Safar, LA-based Latin Grammy winner Yalil Guerra, Willamette University alum Andrew Robinson, and Joshua Hey. The grand finale: the Sixth Quartet by internationally renowned Portland eminence grise  Tomas Svoboda, inspired by Shostakovich.
Saturday, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Portland and Sunday, First Christian Church, 1166 Oak, Eugene.


ArtsWatch Weekly: thinking about Orlando, and the impact of art

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

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASSACRE. The latest one, unless another sneaks in before deadline, came in the wee hours Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a U.S.-born gunman carrying an assault rifle and claiming allegiance to ISIS opened fire, killing forty-nine people, wounding fifty-three, and then being slain himself in a shootout with police. He may or may not have been gay; several people reported that he was a semi-regular at the club. He was certainly homophobic. He may or may not have been a radical jihadist: initial indications are that he was acting as a lone wolf. Orlando’s is being called the worst mass shooting in United States history, at least by a lone gunman, and who knows how long that record will stand? (Other massacres have been more deadly, but not as quick or efficient: the Wounded Knee Massacre carried out in 1890 by U.S. Cavalry troops on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation left at least three times as many dead.)

We’ve been here before, over and over, from Sandy Hook to Columbine to Virginia Tech to Reynolds High School in suburban Portland to Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon, and on and on and on and on, world without end, amen, amen.

Portland Gay Men's Chorus performs Saturday at Schnitzer Hall. 2010 photo

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performs Saturday at Schnitzer Hall. 2010 photo

It’s difficult to rank these atrocities – impossible, really – because whatever the body count, people are killed, survivors are shattered, worlds are torn apart. This one comes with an increasing sense of futility, a belief that the nation lacks the political and moral will to do anything about it. Here at ArtsWatch we won’t get into the political arguments of what can or can’t be done: those arguments are all around us, and by this point you know where you stand and how you will respond. I will say that some form of rational control on the sale of firearms, and a civilian ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, are necessary in a civilized society. And I will note that this latest massacre hits cultural communities hard, because so much of the arts world has been invigorated and often led by GLBTQ artists and the creativity they’ve brought to dance, theater, music, the movies, literature, and visual art. So many gay people have been drawn to the arts, partly, because for all of its ordinary human quirks and bickering and biases and self-indulgences and jealousies and backbiting and exaggerations, the arts world is also open and generous and welcoming to talent wherever it rises. In that sense, we are all gay. We stand as one.


Gay Men’s Chorus: Journey to a brighter day

The choir commemorates its 35th with a new commission from Portland composer and librettist.

It’s never been easy being gay in a homophobic world, but it was especially bleak 35 years ago. Rampant discrimination ruled in employment, housing, and beyond. Within a year, AIDS would begin devastating the community and Republicans would take over the US government with help from the so-called Moral Majority and other anti-gay activists. And one of the real heroes of the gay rights movement, San Francisco city councillor Harvey Milk, had months earlier been assassinated — along with Mayor George Moscone, a supporter of equal rights for people of all sexual orientations — by a right wing fellow councillor.

That was the environment in which the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus formed in 1980 as America’s fourth-oldest gay-identified chorus, with a mission to achieve social change through choral music.

Cut to today, when marriage equality is a reality in most of the country, and Portland has had a proudly gay mayor and is home to America’s first openly bisexual governor. Though the journey to real equality isn’t yet complete, there’s much to celebrate, with the promise of more progress to come.

That’s why PGMC chose to celebrate its 35th anniversary by looking forward: commissioning a new work for the chorus with words by chorus member Doug Bom and music by Portland composer Scot Crandal.

Scot Crandal and PGMC perform his new A Brighter Day this weekend.

Scot Crandal and PGMC perform his new A Brighter Day this weekend.


“We have long been committed to bringing new music written especially for the gay choruses over the last 35 years to the Portland area,” PGMC artistic director Bob Mensel explains. “But we’ve also been committed to doing our own commissioning,” resulting in the creation of around 50 new works. “We’ve done commissions with people across the country, but there’s such a wealth of talent here that I’d like to help develop and give local people a real opportunity.” Citing the predictability of so much current Broadway fare, Mensel draws an analogy to locavore dining: “Why go eat at chains when we can get this great local food?”

Crandal has not only composed sacred music for choirs but also plays jazz piano, just completed an album of new jazz songs, produces music for film, TV, and video, and sings in local opera and other productions; he’s a featured tenor soloist in next weekend’s Bravo Vancouver performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. Crandal will play piano in his piece, which Mensel calls “sophisticated and accessible,” and also features a jazz combo and synthesizer.

“When I started composing A Brighter Day, I felt inspired to connect this new music to the musical strengths I’ve heard in PGMC’s singing,” Crandal recalls. “So, there’s some pop, jazz, and classical sensibilities blended in a way that I hope features the strong musical ability of the singers and creates an experience for performers and listeners that takes them to new places. “

A Brighter Day lives up to its title, Mensel says, in contrast to many downbeat original works for gay choruses that he calls “’ambulance chasing commissions’ — somebody gets called faggot and they write a piece. What we wanted to say is that there’s a lot to celebrate. Scot’s piece is very bright and optimistic.”

That sunny mood necessarily contrasts with the piece on the first half of the program. Commissioned by PGMC’s San Francisco counterpart, Broadway composer Andrew Lippa’s I Am Harvey Milk commemorates the too-short life of  California’s first openly gay elected public official, which ended at the hands of a bigot on November 27, 1978. Dru Rutledge, who’s performed with Portland Opera and Oregon Symphony, and at Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre and Broadway Rose, plays dual roles: Harvey’s mother and his teacher Mrs. Rosenblatt. Local singers portray Milk as a child and an adult. With A Brighter Day following in the concert’s concluding half, the show both musically and thematically traces gay people’s two-generation journey from tragedy to triumph, a journey PGMC continues.

PGMC performs Celebrate The Journey at 8 pm Saturday, March 21 and 3 pm Sunday, March 22, at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College. Tickets are available online.

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

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

Of course you didn’t mean to, but the holidays can be hectic, so many cards to send, gifts to give. Fortunately, there’s still time to give  that music lover a gift (via actual CD or downloadable file) of homegrown music by Oregon musicians — including some holiday sounds, though not always the most conventional.

dropintheocean“A Drop in the Ocean,” Portland State University Chamber Choir:  Anyone chancing upon this music without knowing who’s singing would be shocked to discover that it’s a college choir. This sometimes luminous new CD provides tangible proof that director Ethan Sperry has restored the PSU to its former ranks among the nation’s finest collegiate choirs. Recorded in the (occasionally overly) reverberant acoustics of Portland’s First United Methodist Church and St. Stephens Catholic Church, the disc radiates a plush, reverent sound, from the striking opening “O Salutaris Hostia” and title track by contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds through the closing Haitian voodoo songs that regularly spice the choirs often thrilling live performances. The disc would have benefited from another of those upbeat numbers to break up the rich but poky sequence of tracks — Thomas Dorsey’s gospel classic “Precious Lord” and works by Rachmaninoff, Verdi and Georgy Sviridov’s “Having Witnessed a Wondrous Birth,” which nearly sends the album into a stall before it picks up with Sperry’s clever arrangement of the inevitable “Hallelujah” (which like every cover I’ve heard loses some of Leonard Cohen’s original slyness amid the earnestness) and a strong closing stretch run.

“Now make we joye: Renaissance Christmas and other Celebratory Music,” Ensemble De Organographia, Oregon Renaissance Band: Phil and Gayle Neuman not only study Renaissance music, teach the other members of their bands to play it in the manner it was intended by its creators, and play many of the archaic instruments themselves — but they also make their own replicas of those original curtals, sackbutts, douçaines, racketts, ayacachtlis, tartolds, cornamusens, krummhorns (quack!), schreierpfeifes, violas da braccio, cants, shawms, and more. The album also boasts more familiar sounds of violin, guitar, recorders, bagpipes and Gayle Neuman’s affectingly and appropriately artless voice. And if you want to see as well as hear those colorful noisemakers, you can check out their CD release concerts Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Community Music Center or Sunday at Gresham’s St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, which will likely contain much of the music on this disc, by Europeans such as Michael Praetorius, William Byrd, and even composers from Latin America.


“This England,” Oregon Symphony:

After its triumph with last year’s program of music by British composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and American John Adams, the OSO goes all-English. Billed as a “super audio CD” by Pentatone Classics, it still struggles with the acoustic limitations of the recording venue, Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and even if these live recordings (made in live concerts there in February and May of this year) can’t quite match the power I experienced hearing these recordings in person, they achieve admirable depth and clarity that bring out unexpected elements in both major 20th century English compositions. Unlike last year’s rendition of Vaughan Williams’s previous, knottier symphony, this excellent new recording can’t surprise as many listeners who are doubtless more familiar with the more popular 1943 Symphony #5. But the OSO’s taut performance doesn’t wallow in superficial pastoral pleasures, finding depths that some other performances miss. Their even fiercer performance of Benjamin Britten’s popular “Sea Interludes” from his great opera “Peter Grimes” fully captures its drama. Both major works and the engaging opener, “Cockaigne,” Edward Elgar’s postcard to London circa the English equivalent of the Belle Époque, demonstrate the tightly wound expressiveness and sharp ensemble that music director Carlos Kalmar and the current crew (notably here the brass section) have developed in recent years, and this recording can proudly stand alongside other top versions by the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra. But the fact that these last-century works have been much recorded by other major orchestras raises another question: how about an album from our taxpayer-supported orchestra called “This Oregon”?

PSGBy Request … Girlchoir Favorites,” Portland Symphonic Girlchoir: These selected live performances (accompanied by pianists Kay Doyle and Tamara Still) from concerts in 2008-10 covers a remarkable range of territory, from spirituals to contemporary choral works to Duke Ellington tunes — a nobly ambitious effort in which the girls catch the bluesy feeling but not the swing; we’re so spoiled by the flexible phrasing of some of the greatest solo singers in this repertoire that square choral performances can come off a little stiff — and more. Even the very young choristers turn in surprisingly affecting performances in a disk that demonstrates the value of one of Oregon’s most beloved institutions for young musicians.

singnswingsmall-148x148“Sing & Swing the Season,” Portland Gay Men’s Chorus: The 130-voice choir sings 18 carols and Hanukkah songs ranging from Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” to Morten Lauridsen’s shimmering “O Magnum Mysterium.” The chorus sounds focused and engaged for such a large, non-professional group, and a small band lends lively accompaniment. Artistic director Bob Mensel builds the sound to impressive heights in Franz Biebl’s famous “Ave Maria,” even if he makes the unusual decision to take different tempos for different verses. A party breaks out for “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells” and the final track, “The Merriest.”

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