resonance ensemble

MusicWatch Weekly: pianos aplenty

There’s also organ music, choral music, string ensembles and a couple orchestras’ worth of fine young classical players and more on Oregon stages this week

Portland’s most welcome frequent contemporary classical guests, DUO Stephanie & Saar, return for a pair of entirely different shows, bringing plenty of piano-playing colleagues with them; Portland Piano International’s latest Rising Star flashes across the keyboard; and two of jazz’s most forward looking pianists, Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson, bring their trios to town, the former celebrating still another great pianist/composer, Thelonious Monk.

Stephanie & Saar perform twice in Portland.

DUO Stephanie and Saar
The renowned New York based piano duo visit Portland, Stephanie Ho’s hometown, frequently. This time, they perform J.S. Bach’s final work, the massive keyboard monument to counterpoint, The Art of Fugue, which they recently recorded. The next night, they join some of Portland’s finest pianists (from Third Angle, FearNoMusic, and local universities) to reprise some of the “greatest hits” from the three annual installments of their Makrokosmos concerts, including music by the greatest living American composers (Steve Reich, George Crumb, John Adams) and more.
Wednesday, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, and Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. Portland.

Allison Au Quartet
One of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz stars, saxophonist/composer Allison Au’s melodic original jazz just garnered the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy award for best jazz album for her second release, Forest Grove. Unfortunately, they’re not actually playing it in Forest Grove, but you can hear them in Portland and Eugene.
Wednesday, Jo Bar and Rotisserie, Portland and Thursday, Jazz Station, Eugene.

Jerry Douglas Band 
Even if you’ve never heard of Jerry Douglas, you’ve almost certainly heard his dobro, a guitar augmented by a metal plate and amplifying cone that makes a distinctive twangy sound. A Nashville studio regular who’s played on over 1500 recordings, he’s transcended the  boundaries between bluegrass, country, rock, jazz, pop – even contemporary classical. Along the way, Douglas has garnered dozens of awards, including a baker’s dozen Grammies and a Musician of the Year award from the Country Music Association; added zing to albums by Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, Earl Scruggs, Bill Frisell, Phish, and dozens of other stars; played in bands with Ricky Skaggs and in Alison Krauss’s Union Station. He’s an American music legend and always worth catching with his own band.
Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Makrokosmos Project
With duo pianists Stephanie & Saar in town to play Bach (see above) and no doubt visit family, why not celebrate the third anniversary of its valuable Makrokosmos project (which ArtsWatch has covered extensively — type the word into the search field above) by reprising some of the three epic extravaganzas’ greatest hits by some of America’s greatest 20th century composers: Steve Reichʼs Six Pianos, John Adamsʼs Hallelujah Junction, George Crumbʼs Makrokosmos I and II and more, including works by Oregonians like Alexander Schwarzkopfʼs Recycled Wheels. Performers in this free concert include Susan Smith, Deborah Cleaver, Julia Lee, Monica Ohuchi, Jeff Payne, Schwarzkopf and DUO Stephanie & Saar.
Thursday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

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Becoming Welcome: giving center stage to all artists

A contentious review sparks a critical conversation about Portland arts

by MARY McDONALD-LEWIS

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch invited Mary McDonald-Lewis to write this essay based on a meeting at Artists Repertory Theatre of members of Resonance Ensemble and others with our editors. She speaks for herself and the group in her response to ArtsWatch’s original review of the Resonance concert, ArtsWatch’s subsequent response to complaints about it, and the ongoing implications of both.

The Circle Gathers

Studio 2 at Artists Repertory Theatre was tense. It was a hot day on the last Friday in July, and the air was close, but that wasn’t why.

Mary McDonald-Lewis

In an uneven circle, 11 people, many strangers to one another, arrive in ones and twos to review a tough month in Portland’s arts world. Entering the room are a mixed group from varied backgrounds and professions, but they all have one thing on their mind: a review that caught fire on the virtual pages of Oregon ArtsWatch, and that continued to spark controversy and division in the arts community.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.

 

Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.

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The Art of Inclusion

ArtsWatch apologizes for concert review's errors of judgment and fact

by BRETT CAMPBELL, BOB HICKS, and BARRY JOHNSON

“Reviews now are different kinds of battlefields. Who is writing them is just as important — perhaps more important — than what is being reviewed.”

That’s from an insightful and important story called “Like it or not, we are in the midst of a second arts revolution,” published a few weeks ago by our friend and colleague Chris Jones, chief theater writer for the Chicago Tribune. We thought it said so much about the state of the arts and arts journalism that we immediately posted a link to ArtsWatch’s Facebook page. “Administrators, artists and critics all have to get used to the intensity of amplified opinion, and the widespread desire for empowered involvement, that now surrounds their work.”

A few days later, ArtsWatch found itself engaged on such a battlefield. One of our regular freelance writers, Terry Ross, who’s covered classical music for decades, wrote a review of a June 17 concert by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble that sparked outrage — “amplified opinion.” You can follow the action here.

Resonance Ensemble performed music by Renee Favand-See and welcomed other musicians in its last concert. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

To give our readers the chance to express themselves, we have let that battle play out before weighing in ourselves, and in general we’ve been impressed by the passion and thoughtfulness of many of the responses. The comments taught us important lessons about our community’s arts culture. As hard as it was to read them without contributing ourselves, we thought this thread was important beyond anything we could add. Now it’s time to state clearly where we editors stand, and to apologize, appreciate, and explain.

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Resonance Ensemble review: context counts

Portland composer's impressive choral composition eclipses concert's other programming

by TERRY ROSS

Be careful with your programming.

This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon in putting together the June 24 concert of her choir Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s Yale Union. Instead, what might have been a cohesive program of music in support of the featured selection, a very well-crafted piece by a local composer, became a very mixed bag of good, bad, and boring music.

Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon and composer Renée Favand-See. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar Photography.

The main attraction, Only in Falling, which Resonance commissioned and premiered in 2014, is a 25-minute essay in five parts, each a setting of verses by Kentucky poet Wendell Berry (b. 1934). The poetry itself is very strong in its evocation of nature, especially in the first three movements, and composer Renée Favand-See does it justice in short bursts of sensitive part-writing. The second movement, “For the Future,“ made skillful use of Resonance Ensemble’s seven male singers (eight were listed in the program), and the third, “Woods,” proved a lovely vehicle for mezzo-soprano Cecily Kiester.

The music was just as interesting and even beautiful in the fourth and fifth movements, but these suffered from an overload of text. The fourth, “The Law That Marries All Things,” is in five separate parts, and although soprano Lindsey Cafferky, tenor Les Green and baritone Kevin Walsh sang their solos convincingly, the music dragged out to nine minutes and failed to have the impact of the shorter opening three movements, which lasted a total of eight minutes together. And in movement five, “The Wheel,” the long text, declaimed rapidly, was utterly lost despite the efforts of Mr. Green and soprano Vakaré Petroliunaité.

Still, the overall effect of Ms. Favand-See’s piece is overwhelmingly positive; it shows a genuine composer’s gift in its melodies and structures, and one looks forward to its release on a recording soon. On the other hand, there is no excuse for presenting Nikole Potulsky’s amateurish and lame three-minute song “Baby Mine,” which the composer sang, accompanying herself (amateurishly) on guitar, on which her repertoire consisted of three chords (I-IV-V). However unfortunate it was that Ms. Potulsky was mourning the death of three babies — in her own miscarriage and in a friend’s and a cousin’s still-births — there’s no reason to allow empathy to overrule musical taste and judgment.


Video: Alan Niven, Wolf Traks.

In contrast, Dominick Di Orio’s five-minute You Do Not Walk Alone featured a very effective repeated gesture of pausing on a dissonant chord on the word “walk” before finally resolving into a consonance emphasizing the title’s message. And Steven Sametz’s I Have Had Singing, although only two minutes long, was an excellent setting of a wonderful quote from Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, Portland of an English Village (1969), well worth printing here in its eloquent entirety:

The singing. There was so much singing then and this was my pleasure, too. We all sang, the boys in the field, the chapels were full of singing. Here I lie: I have had pleasure enough; I have had singing.

A piece called Last Letter Home by the well-known American choral composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was skillful enough in its writing, but it dipped into bathos in quoting in full a soldier’s longish letter to his wife, and it consisted of seven unrelenting minutes of homophony, in which all the singers sang the text together in hymn-like harmony. Jake Runestad’s The Peace of Wild Things, on yet another text by Wendell Berry, also relied monotonously on homophony, although with occasional repetitions.

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Cascadia Composers reviews: Lights, poetry, music

Concerts seek meaning beyond music through complementary art forms

One of the oldest questions in music — right after “what the hell is music, anyways?” — is how music expresses meaning. We normally think of meaning as a semantic thing, something that can be explained in words and symbols. We can, of course, regard music as a kind of language…but when we think of meaning in music we normally go outside the music itself to something more overtly linguistic. Usually that means lyrics, libretti, and programmatic music based on poems or stories. We also tend to think of musical meaning as being something non- or extra-auditory — paintings, religious iconography, or the physical appearances of performers, conductors, and composers. In the past few months, Cascadia Composers has put on two concerts dealing with these strategies for meaning-making in music: one visual, one linguistic.

Visual Meaning: Desire for the Sacred

January’s Desire for the Sacred concert, hosted at Lewis & Clark College’s sylvan Agnes Flanagan Chapel, was as much light show as concert: performers on several compositions played up in the organ loft while the audience sat enveloped in the colored lights projected all over the chapel’s gorgeous modernist wooden ceiling and its Casavant organ, the world’s only circular pipe organ, its pipes suspended from the chapel’s ceiling in a dense spiral.

The organ in Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

The light show was run by Nicholas Yandell, whose music began each half of the concert. In the opening Dilate; Elucidate, slowly evolving pastels emulated the holy glow of the rising sun and reflected the yearning arpeggiations and pedal notes of the Pacific Northwest’s resident organ god, Dan Miller. After intermission, Yandell’s Hymn of Daybreak resurrected the solar theme, this time with Cheryl Young at the manuals and the sweet longing of Kurt Heichelheim’s distant horn imbuing the chapel with numinous charms.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Revel without a Claus

Commedia Christmas, O'Connor & Ives, Nutcracker, Imago's new Belle, Milagro's Posada, more "Messiah," Kurosawa Dreams, and more

This year’s dragon, not red as in the picture here from 2014 but a bright scaly green, was sitting in a little storage corner outside Portland Revels’ offices in the Artists Repertory Theatre creative hub one day last week, waiting patiently for assembly. It was in two pieces: a hind portion stretched over a large backpack, with room for levers, and a gangly top, again with movable parts, which when occupied by puppeteer Shuhe Hawkins will stretch giraffe-like perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the stage. It is a lovely creature all in all, and that fabled dragon-slayer St. George really ought to be ashamed.

Taggin’ with the dragon, in the 2014 Revels. Portland Revels photo

It’s Revels time again – this year’s Christmas Revels runs for eight performances Friday through December 21 at St. Mary’s Academy downtown – and for Bruce Hostetler, newly settled in as artistic director after about five years of working with and directing the annual winter solstice show, that means settling into the hundreds of details at hand while he’s also thinking about bigger things. If you don’t know about Revels – which is in its 22nd year in Portland, and began in 1975 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – it’s a grand and genuinely family get-together of singing, dancing, storytelling, mumming, and playing old-time instruments that is rooted in Celtic customs but regularly roams the earth, making connections with other cultures’ solstice traditions. Santa Claus? That’s somebody else’s tale.

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