portland taiko

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

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: community spirit

Musical highlights around Oregon this week

This week’s Oregon music highlights feature several concerts devoted to bringing communities together and celebrating various heritages that help make up the larger community that we all belong to. Please add your suggested music events in the comments section below.

Leyla McCalla performs at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall Saturday.

“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 eastern Oregon. 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 through September 30.
Wednesday, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 22267 OR Highway 86, Baker City; Thursday, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, 47106 Wildhorse Blvd. Pendleton.

Eugene Symphony
The orchestra performs a recent work by contemporary Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas, and Joyce Yang solos in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 before the orchestra unless that pinnacle of Russian Romanticism, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Music for Everyone Day
A wide variety of musicians, including the Woolen Men, Skull Diver, Ashi, JoJoScott and more, supply the tunes in this free, family-friendly four hour celebration.
Friday, Portland City Hall.

The Gondoliers
Light Opera of Portland’s latest Gilbert & Sullivan show.
Friday-Sunday, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

The Dover Quartet performs in Ashland. Photo:Tom Emerson.

Dover Quartet
The Chamber Music Northwest favorites return to Oregon to play quartets by contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour, Tchaikovsky, and Bartók.
Friday, Southern Oregon University Recital Hall, Ashland.

The Broken Consort
One of the most potentially exciting additions to Oregon’s music scene, this early music ensemble recently relocated from Boston and New York to Portland. Their repertoire ranges far beyond the too-limited scope of the state’s other historically informed performers, including new music (they just recorded an album of originals by leader and singer Emily Lau), and this concert focuses on American baroque music. Yes, there was such a thing. People were making music in the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. The eight musicians, who hail from Portland, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond, sing and play music written in the New England colonies (by composers like the great William Billings and Francis Hopkinson), in Spanish colonial America, shape note hymns, and even 19th century songs by Stephen Foster. But they’ll also perform music for ngoni, the instrument brought by African slaves, Native American chants and more, including the west coast premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s 2016 Green Field of Amerikay. It’s the fall’s most fascinating concert.
Saturday, Nordia House, and Sunday, The Hallowed Halls, Portland.

Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival
The fifth annual celebration of a true Oregon original and legendary Native American jazz saxophonist includes Tracy Lee Nelson, Winona LaDuke, Gary Ogan, and more. And if you’re interested in Pepper’s life and work, check out Organic Listening Club’s latest edition at Artists Repertory Theater on October 17.
Saturday, Parkrose High School, Portland.

Taiko Together
If you live outside Japan and enjoy the stirring sounds of Japanese percussion music, or just like whacking on big drums,  Portland is the place to be. This concert brings together all four of the city’s taiko ensembles — Portland Taiko, Takohachi, En Taiko, and Unit Souzou — in a celebration of some of the world’s most, ah, striking sounds. It’s a fine opportunity to sample the different varieties available too, from youth-oriented classes to traditional tunes to folk dance to new music and more.
Saturday, P.C.C. Sylvania, Performing Arts Center.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

The Vanport Mosaic and Maxville Heritage
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s fascinating new project kicks off with a free performance featuring music performed by singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Ezra Weiss, featuring Weiss’s song with lyrics by Renee Mitchell, inspired by the story of Maxville. This afternoon discussion event includes presentations about Maxville and Vanport, followed by a talk with the artistic creators, who are hoping to receive input from the community itself for this important multimedia community history project.
Saturday, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland.

Leyla McCalla
Former Carolina Chocolate Drop cellist/singer/guitarist/banjoist Leyla McCalla’s music draws on her Haitian heritage as well as the Creole, Cajun, jazz and French influences that still simmer in and around her New Orleans home. McCalla’s covers of traditional song and sometimes poignant, sometimes danceable, expertly crafted original music reflect the vitality of the many rich folk traditions she’s assimilated.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, Portland.

OneBeat
Organized by NYC’s Bang on a Can new music collective and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the four-year-old OneBeat program brings young (age 19-35) musicians from around the world to collaboratively create original music, play it on tour, lead workshops with local young audiences, and “develop strategies for arts-based social engagement” when they return to their home countries. This year’s fellows include South African vocalist Nonku Phiri; Aisaana Omorova, a komuz (traditional three-stringed strummed instrument) player from Kyrgyzstan; Chicago-based producer Elijah Jamal; and Belorussian producer and singer Natalia Kuznetskaya. The program has come to Sisters, Portland and elsewhere around the nation in years past; see it now before our current rulers find out about this effort to increase intercultural understanding.
Saturday, The Belfry, Sisters.

Continues…

… and oddly, as a pitched political battle sweeps the nation, life goes on. How will the arts world respond to the extraordinary events of the day? How, if at all, will this most divisive and pugilistic of administrations respond to the world of art? Shoes could drop at any moment: the administration has already stated its intent to kill the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and to end federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While Nero threatens to cut off the fiddles, here are a few highlights of what’s going on in and around town.

*

IT’S FIRST THURSDAY this week, when many galleries open their new monthly shows, so visual art is on our minds. The Portland Art Museum has opened Rodin: The Human Experience, a major show of 52 bronzes, and Constructing Identity, an important overview of historical and contemporary work by African American artists.

Louis Bunce, “Apple”, 1968. Oil on canvas. 41” x 48”//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And the invaluable Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem has opened Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism, a retrospective on the late Oregon artist, who Paul Sutinen, in his ArtsWatch review of the show, identifies as a key figure in the city’s cultural life, the catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art. “It is an important show,” Sutinen declares. “It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.” And then he explains why. See the sort of thing that the Savonarolas of the federal purse are eager to upend.

Continues…

Portland Taiko: Rebuilding community through music

The Portland percussion ensemble embraces diversity in its music and projects

At the end of Portland Taiko’s fall concert at Portland’s Catlin Gabel School, the performers strolled offstage and lined up outside the exits, smiling and thanking the departing audience members who’d just enjoyed a superb concert. The friendly farewells finished off an event that had a family feel throughout. The Portland-based Japanese percussion ensemble played the first half, and their guests, Los Angeles’s TaikoProject, the second.

The two groups collaborated on a couple of pieces involving a variety of traditional Japanese drums, with choreographed movement and playing that ranged from subtle interaction to powerful pounding. And as Portland Taiko Executive Director Wynn Kiyama, who’d just completed his first season as director, noted from the stage, the ensembles enjoy several connections: former Portland Taiko Artistic Director Michelle Fujii, for example, once played in TaikoProject, which also includes Kiyama’s brother.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

The concert continued Portland Taiko’s resurgence after one of the most trying periods in its history. At the group’s annual summer 2014 concert in Washington Park before he joined, “I was impressed by their musicality,” Kiyama recalls, unaware that the group was in the midst of a difficult transition. Fujii and her husband, star dancer Toru Watanabe, left the group shortly before the concert. Under Fujii’s direction from 2006–14, the group had broadened its appeal and artistic focus to emphasize folk-dance movement and theatrical elements. In the wake of her departure, Portland Taiko’s direction seemed uncertain.

Since Kiyama assumed leadership last year, the group has welcomed back several former members, restored its annual benefit banquet, and embarked on a series of performances, like the collaboration with TaikoProject, that embrace both music and community. They were even wearing spiffy new costumes at the November concert. This week, the group performs at a Portland Japanese American cultural celebration and in a Portland concert with the venerable Japanese taiko ensemble Kodo.

Continues…

Portland Taiko, Portland Baroque, collectif9: Home field advantage

Stellar local performers match the musical radiance of visiting stars

Artistic centers seem to go through phases. At the outset, they predominantly host performances by local amateurs. As more ambition and money arrive, they worshipfully import Big Names from artistic capitals, often neglecting homegrown talents who might be equally talented (and more original) in favor of the imprimatur of NYC cred — a sure sign of provincial insecurity. Sometimes, like my hometown of Austin, a city’s artistic culture develops to the extent that its local artists realize that they don’t need to move elsewhere to make vanguard art (not to mention a living), and in fact, the city becomes a magnet for others in the region and then the world.

Los Angeles's TaikoProject and Portland Taiko joined forces at the end of their joint concert, 'Sound in Motion.' Photo: Brian Sweeney.

Los Angeles’s TaikoProject and Portland Taiko joined forces in their joint concert, ‘Sound in Motion.’ Photo: Brian Sweeney.

Although some of Oregon’s artistic institutions and their insecure audiences still haven’t quite realized that many arts lovers are looking to us for inspiration than vice versa, Portland in particular and Oregon in general are reaching that third phase. A trio of autumn concerts involving both visiting and locally cultivated musicians showed the value of learning from outsiders — and also just how good our locavore music has become.

Continues…

Portland Taiko: Stay Hungry

Portland Taiko charts a new course with "Insatiable"

Portland Taiko premiered "Insatiable" last weekend.

Portland Taiko premiered “Insatiable” last weekend.

Even before the lights came up, it was clear that this wasn’t your typical Portland Taiko show. The first eerie, metallic sounds emerged from the darkness, and then the stage illumination revealed a small ensemble of dance/drummers resplendent in spiffy new black and red stage costumes, a change from the more prosaic blue working outfits seen in past concerts.

The rest of ensemble’s hour-long premiere of “Insatiable” at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall last weekend felt just as different from the troupe’s usual sequence of several separate, 5-8 minute long, varied sketches, usually featuring plenty of smiles and audience engagement. Although divided into scenes, “Insatiable” is definitively a single piece, punctuated by a few blackouts and linked by smooth transitions, with recurring rhythmic and choreographic elements. The quintet of performers and all their instruments never left the stage (effectively maintaining continuity), never addressed the audience, and in fact spent part of the show with their backs turned toward us, facing the back curtain as they sat and drummed.

Continues…

The Tokyo Quartet performs Monday at Chamber Music Northwest.
Photo: Pete Checchia

 

This weekend is the calm before Oregon’s summer classical music monsoon season. Two major festivals (Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival) begin next week, and a third (Portland International Piano Festival) follows in July. This weekend, music lovers in search of a little turbulence are advised to head coastward, where the Astoria Music Festival continues and the Siletz Bay Music Festival wraps up. Friday’s Astoria chamber music offering includes two surefire winners: Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet (which would astonish even if it hadn’t been written by a teenager), and Francis Poulenc’s 1939 Sextet for Piano and Winds, which combines insouciant wit, melancholy and sheer delight. A four-hand Schubert sonata rounds out the program. The Russian-themed Saturday matinee at Astoria’s Liberty Theater features cellist Sergey Antonov,  violinist Roy Malan and pianist Cary Lewis in an arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition plus music by Tchaikovsky and a potent piano trio by Anton Arensky’s. Saturday’s orchestral concert is an all-Brahms affair (Double Concerto, Symphony #2, Academic Festival Overture), while Sunday’s matinee concert with Antonov, pianist Alexandre Dossin and soprano Ruth Ann Swenson includes superb concertos for cello and piano by Haydn and Mozart, respectively, and music from Johann Strauss’s The Bat.

Continues…

 
Oregon ArtsWatch Archives