portland vocal consort

Sing Awakening: Portland’s flowering choral landscape

The City of Roses is also a city of choruses.

Katherine FitzGibbon conducted Resonance Ensemble at Portland's YU Contemporary in March.

Katherine FitzGibbon conducted Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s YU Contemporary in March.

Editor’s note: this is the second in ArtsWatch’s spring look at contemporary choral music. See Jeff Winslow’s analysis of today’s choral compositions here.

by BRUCE BROWNE

“There is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones like them.” – Marcus Aureluis ‘Meditations’

A happy insight came to me indirectly last spring, from an event where hundreds of choral musicians appeared together, representing eight choirs. All Saints Catholic Church was the venue for an outpouring of spiritual and financial support for one of our own, Brian Tierney. Reflecting afterward on the variety of sounds that we had heard, I became aware of the several changes that had come about in six years my family had been gone from Portland. And in that time, Portland had cultivated a new choral landscape. Significant. Dramatic.

There are new faces in front of two of Portland’s heirloom choirs. Oregon Repertory Singers and Choral Arts Ensemble have new directors, Ethan Sperry and David DeLeyser. And these two join a cadre of new, smaller choirs conducted by energetic new talents who have blossomed on the scene: Katherine Fitzgibbon, Resonance Ensemble; Anna Song, In Mulieribus; Patrick McDonough, The Ensemble; and Ryan Heller, Portland Vocal Consort.

These new, downsized groups are what I would call “boutique choirs,” not at all a pejorative insinuation. I think it’s a good word that meshes with Portland’s boutique-y wine, beer and visual arts scene and general quirkiness, as seen on say, “Portlandia.” With these newbies comes the infusion of new ideas and styles. And they share similarities.

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Sing Awakening: New directions in vocal music

Today's choral composers explore new sounds

Ryan Heller conducted Portland Vocal Consort's 2013 Best of the Northwest concert.

Ryan Heller conducted Portland Vocal Consort’s 2013 Best of the Northwest concert.

Editor’s note: This is the first in ArtsWatch’s two-part look at contemporary choral music. See Bruce Browne’s appraisal of Portland’s choral scene here.

By JEFF WINSLOW

New choral music is hot, no doubt about it. And in Portland, new choral ensembles are hot too. Recent years have seen the inauguration of several top-flight groups such as the Resonance Ensemble, Portland Vocal Consort, The Ensemble, and In Mulieribus. Established groups such as Choral Arts Ensemble and Oregon Repertory Singers have passed the baton to ambitious new directors, and the incomparable Cappella Romana has expanded forces and repertory. While none of these groups devotes itself exclusively to new compositions, they tackle them regularly and show no signs of losing interest. Portland Vocal Consort even has an annual “Best of the Northwest” show, with music written entirely by living Northwest composers. (Full disclosure: PVC included my “The Sun Never Says” in its 2011 “Best of the Northwest” program.)

On the national scene, publicity genius Eric Whitacre continues to woo and wow the choral singing multitudes, and for only the second time in its 60-year history (the first was only five years ago), the Pulitzer Prize in music was just awarded for an a cappella (unaccompanied) choral composition. Any local composer like me, who has written a few choral works and who wants to write more, or any fan of contemporary classical music, should be excited about the future, right?

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Scott Tuomi led the combined choirs in "The Promise of Living."

The unseasonably balmy weather outside Northeast Portland’s All Saints Catholic Church last Sunday reflected the warm feelings within as several hundred friends and admirers of singer Brian Tierney gathered to support the 29-year-old tenor, who was critically wounded in a still-unexplained shooting March 28. By the time it ended some three hours later, the event had expanded beyond its announced purpose, though it certainly achieved that, to the tune of nearly $20,000 raised to help defray the family’s medical expenses into a celebration of a popular musician and an expression of this city’s musical community.

Most of the participants had played or sung with Tierney, who shines as one of the brightest of the stellar Portland choral circuit, in high demand in performances demanding a strong, precise tenor presence or solo. He’s sung in the Portland State University choirs, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers (who were unable to participate because of their own simultaneously scheduled concert), Portland Opera chorus, Cantores in Ecclesia, and more. He’s made a lot of music, and a lot of friends.

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Friends of Brian Tierney raise their voices to help the recuperating singer and family. All photos: Erin Riddle and Parallel Photography.

 

The unseasonably balmy weather outside Northeast Portland’s All Saints Catholic Church last Sunday reflected the warm feelings within as several hundred friends and admirers of singer Brian Tierney gathered to support the 29-year-old tenor, who was critically wounded in a still-unexplained shooting March 28. By the time it ended some three hours later, the event had transcended its announced purpose — though it certainly achieved that, to the tune of nearly $20,000 raised to help defray the family’s medical expenses — into a celebration of a popular musician and an expression of this city’s musical community.

Most of the participants had played or sung with Tierney, who shines as one of the brightest of the stellar Portland choral circuit, in high demand in performances demanding a strong, precise tenor presence or solo. He’s sung in the Portland State University choirs, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers (who were unable to participate because of their own simultaneously scheduled concert), Portland Opera Chorus, Cantores in Ecclesia, and more. He’s made a lot of music, and a lot of friends.

Brian Tierney

Pianist John Stuber and violinist Mary Rowell opened the proceedings with the familiar meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera Thais, followed by the clear voice of tenor Cahen Taylor in the spiritual “Shall We Gather at the River.” Other performers offered reprises of pieces performed in recent months: Cappella Romana, a section of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil; 45th Parallel, a movement of Dvorak’s “American” string quartet; The Ensemble, “Mystica” from Benjamin Britten’s Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (which Tierney had been scheduled to sing a few days after the shooting); and the Julians, two selections from their last concert. Cantores in Ecclesia excelled in a movement from William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Portland Vocal Consort sang Portland-born composer Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night,” and Resonance Ensemble “I Have Had Singing.”

The groups share so many members that sometimes it was hard to tell them apart. I spotted the members of In Mulieribus, too, singing with the other groups though not as a unit. Soprano Angela Niederloh performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon” and Robert Schumann’s “Widmung,” both accompanied by pianist Kira Whiting. The Portland Opera Chorus heralded next month’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide with an exceptionally potent version of “Make Our Garden Grow,” and although they’re not a professional choir like the other performers, the St. Michaels and All Angels Choir, which Tierney helps direct, sounded just as eloquent in Herbert Howells’ “Like as the Hart.”

Elizabeth Bacon, Beth Madsen-Bradford, Margie Boule

Their director, Scott Tuomi, one of Tierney’s voice teachers, delivered a brief, pitch- perfect speech about the stricken singer and the event. “You all know why we are here tonight,” he said. “We’re here to transcend the events that brought us together and celebrate the love, joy and God’s grace in the miracle that Brian is recovering, and will be back to sing with us again. And Brian will sing again, with a voice that was described recently in a sermon as ‘a gift from a particularly generous God.'”

Former Oregonian columnist and local TV newswoman Margie Boule, who emceed the affair with her usual graciousness, established a non-doleful mood from the outset — not about mourning, she declared, but a celebration of survival — and kept things moving despite the inevitable occasional hitches in such a complex, hastily arranged affair. She and two of the event organizers, Julians executive director Elizabeth Bacon (who attended PSU with Tierney and performs with him in PVC and Resonance Ensemble) and Beth Madsen-Bradford (who performed with Tierney with Mock’s Crest Theater), updated the audience about the donations and family needs, and they and others told stories about Tierney that showed what a funny, loving and admired figure he is in Portland’s choral music community. (The third main organizer was another PSU friend, Zakk Hoyt.) Tierney’s wife, Katie, drew smiles and tears when she thanked the gathered friends for all their help.

But it was Brian Tierney himself, though still hospitalized and unable to attend, who had the best line of the night, delivered in a note that his wife read to his assembled colleagues.

“I always knew that my dangerous lifestyle of stay at home dad/ church musician and opera singer would catch up with me someday, “ Tierney wrote. Everyone laughed, releasing the tension (and some tears) that had built up over the past few weeks. His next line further lightened the mood. “I am feeling more ‘saint-like,’” you know, ’cause I’m hole-y.” Groans ensued; Katie continued.

When I heard what you all were going to be singing tonight, I was a little jealous that you all get to sing such beautiful music, because under different circumstances, I would be right up there with you! There are no words to thank you for the amount of generosity, prayers, support and love that we have experienced. You are helping us to make it through this tough time, and I want you to know that I am getting stronger everyday and I WILL be singing with you all again soon!
All my love,
Brian Tierney

Although I’ve heard him sing often, I’ve never met Brian Tierney, but after hearing his words and those of his friends, and the music they made for him, I’m pretty sure I’d like him a lot.

Katie Tierney

Tuomi conducted the combined choirs in a stirring “The Promise of Living,” from Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land, just after Tierney’s other main mentor, former PSU choir director Bruce Browne, led them in Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied.” Browne captured the spirit of the event in his brief remarks, thanking Tierney “for giving us the chance to show our best selves.” As Browne suggested, what started out as a benefit about a single injured member of the Portland music world had by the end of the evening evolved into a celebration of the powerful spirit of community that knits so much of this unusually collaborative musical community together. It’s a testament not just to Brian Tierney but to those who join him in making music here. As his friend Bacon said, “all you out there, you know that if anything happens to you, we’ve got your back!”

Contributions to the Brian Tierney Fund can be made at www.friendsofbt.com. Update: We’re told that Brian is now home from the hospital, and that as of May 1, contributions to the fund have surpassed $42,000.

 

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend

 

Last week’s MusicWatch was derailed by the fact that the prime upcoming musical offerings were either sold out or involved that sort of music in which neither the player nor the listener knows precisely what notes will be played. And in fact, the Portland Jazz Festival concerts I attended (especially those featuring Seattle-based guitar deity Bill Frisell, pianist Vijay Iyer with Indian musicians in his Tirtha trio, Italian trumpeter/composer Enrico Rava and a hot young band featuring the most powerful trombonist I’ve ever seen, and guitarist Charlie Hunter) all reached numerous musical peaks.

The PJF is certainly one of Oregon’s most valuable musical institutions, and not just for bringing such worthy internationally known performers to town, both during the annual February festival and throughout the year. This year especially, the festival made even more of a point of featuring Oregon jazzers in showcases around town and even opening for some of the legends — a policy I wish more of our music institutions would adopt.

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