tessa brinckman

Oregon new music recordings 2016: Small beauties

Some of Oregon's most intriguing 2016 releases apply big ideas to small-scale compositions

The Warbler Sings, Paul Safar
Composer/pianist Safar had already forged a reputation as one of Eugene’s most intrepid musicians in the classical tradition, thanks in part to his years of concerts and festival appearances via Cherry Blossom Productions, the company he set up with his partner, singer Nancy Wood. His reputation spread statewide thanks to his many appearances in Cascadia Composers concerts, then his 2013 Composer of the Year Award from Oregon Music Teachers Association, which resulted in the commission for his 2016 CD’s title track. That airy, seven-part setting of haikus by the famed Japanese poet Basho finds a unique place between jazz (especially in trumpeter Dave Bender’s trumpet lines and bassist Nathan Waddell’s interjections), classical music (Wood’s elusive, evocative vocal melodies), and Japanese music (spare, almost austere atmosphere of asymmetric abstraction evident in Safar’s pianistic sprinkles).

More birds flutter through a pretty pair of short, solo piano intermezzi, “Geese in the Moonlight” and “Dawn, Singular Heron,” joining other denizens of nature: the Middle Eastern cello / dumbek / zills trio “Cat on a Wire”; the playfully ominous “The Spider,” and the narrated fable “Moonfish” (both featuring Wood). Waves sparkle and heave, via Safar’s piano and Woods’s lovely vocals in the closing “Ocean.” These and the other concise, tuneful tracks should appeal to a wide range of listeners, not just classical fans. Most have highlighted Cascadia concerts over the past few years, and there’s no substitute for seeing an electrifying performer like Wood live, but this diverse recording stands on its own as one of the most enjoyable contemporary Oregon classical music releases of the last decade.

Invisible Light, Delgani Quartet
Safar’s music also graces the debut release from Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, which in under two years has zoomed to prominence in the Willamette Valley and beyond. Their collaboration with another Eugene based artist, actor Ricke Birran, on Safar’s four settings of music from classic literary sources ranges from a gripping, over-the-top reading from The Pied Piper of Hamelin; an antic take on Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, an ominous percussive jungle chant to William Blake’s “The Tyger”; and an incantatory Satanic soliloquy from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Maybe their experience in historically informed performance practice helped the ensemble embrace the ancient, Middle Eastern spirit of Portland-born composer Lou Harrison’s gravely beautiful 1978 String Quartet Set (written for Canada’s Orford Quartet and first recorded by the Kronos Quartet), which relies on the Pythagorean (a/k/a ditone) tuning used in the millennium before the Renaissance in Europe and the Middle East as well as Turkish and French baroque forms. University of Oregon prof Terry McQuilken’s scintillating title cut is based on the music of a more recent source: an early 19th century shape-note hymn, evolving into a tuneful suite that passes through sections touched by jazz, contemporary classical and even medieval influences.


Music in Small Spaces

Small-scale series bring new sounds closer to audiences

In the music world, most of the attention goes to the mega-venues: Keller Auditorium, Moda Center, Schnitzer Concert Hall, arena shows. Yet most of the creativity seems to happen in more intimate confines. Maybe it’s something to do with focus or informality or even lower ticket prices, but for me, cozy clubs, chapels, galleries, small auditoriums somehow make it easier to connect to what’s happening onstage.

That’s why I’ve cherished Music in Small Spaces, which for the past six years has presented new and unusual music in Beaverton and other towns on the west side of Portland’s West Hills (Tualatin Mountains), and Third Angle New Music’s Studio Series and Porch Music, which bring mostly new sounds to inner Southeast Portland’s Zoomtopia studios and the front porches of homes in a leafy old Northeast Portland neighborhood.


Alas, MiSS’s indefatigable majordomo, Judy Castle, has announced that last week’s concert, at Portland’s ironically not-so-small Village Baptist Church, will be the last in the series — a big loss for the West Side and for Oregon music in general. The final two performances, as well as Third Angle’s season-ending (but thankfully not series-ending) show last week show just why these spaces are so valuable. And while it won’t be in a small space, you will have the chance to see a reprise of the final MiSS show this Sunday in downtown Portland.


Michala Petri performs Friday at Chamber Music Northwest.

Michala Petri performs Friday at Chamber Music Northwest.

Baroque sounds again abound this weekend in Oregon. On Friday, the nonpareil Danish recorder virtuosa Michala Petri leads a quartet featuring the superb oboist (and Oregon Bach Festival veteran) Alan Vogel, plus cellist and harpsichordist in Chamber Music Northwest’s all-Baroque (Vivaldi, Bach, Telemann) concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium. Petri’s Baroque concert there during CMNW’s 2012 summer festival was one of the season’s best.

Another Shakespeare fest vet, guitarist David Rogers, enlists two more of his erstwhile Ashland colleagues, baroque dancers Daniel Stephens and Judy Kennedy, Portland Baroque Orchestra cellist Joanna Blendulf and harpist Laura Zaerr to perform Baroque music from Moliere’s 1661 Comédie-Ballet, “Les Facheux,” on Feb. 10 at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church.

Flutist Tessa Brinckmann performs in Corvallis Saturday.

Flutist Tessa Brinckmann performs in Corvallis Saturday.

Baroque music also informs the world premiere work performed Saturday at Corvallis Arts Center by New Zealand born flutist Tessa Brinckmann, who’s spent the past few years performing in Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Longtime OSF composer and fellow Southern Oregon University prof Todd Barton’s new “sonus sonorus” for Baroque flute and electronics, is inspired by an 18th century composition of French composer Jean-Marie Leclair. The splendidly diverse program, which she played Thursday night at Portland State University, also includes Brinckmann’s own sinuous new Turkish-influenced work “Hüzün Nar,” an energetic little piccolo piece by Australian composer Ross Edwards and music by American composers Shirish Korde (a haunting evocation of Japanese shakuhachi music), Washington’s Alex Shapiro (the mysterious “Below,” which evokes whale song and other aquatic echoes) and a virtuosic, appropriately titled barnburner, “Rapid Fire,” inspired by leading American composer Jennifer Higdon’s reaction to inner city violence. Each piece uses a different style and a different instrument, and Brinckmann proved masterful in all of them.

Another flutist, Robert Beall, plays Telemann, Schubert and more with various other chamber musicians at Portland’s Community Music Center Saturday night. The Oregon Chamber Players perform music by Gershwin and more Saturday at Portland’s All Saints Episcopal Church. And on Sunday afternoon in the Celebration Works series at downtown Portland’s First Presbyterian Church, singer Beth Madsen-Bradford and pianist Janet Coleman join PBO violinist Adam Lamotte and soprano Kim Giordano in love songs from the Baroque to the present.

Tosca (Kara Shay Thomson) delivers a sharp rejoinder to Scarpia's (Mark Schnaible) attempted rape and confirmed corruption. © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver

Tosca (Kara Shay Thomson) delivers a sharp rejoinder to Scarpia’s (Mark Schnaible) attempted rape and confirmed corruption. © Portland Opera / Cory Weaver

Orchestral and operatic offerings

On Feb. 9 at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, the Oregon Mozart Players continue the revival (apparent here in recent performances and recording by Portland’s Martingale Ensemble) of  chamber orchestra arrangements by composer Arnold Schoenberg for a turn-of-the century Viennese concert series. The concert includes Mahler’s gorgeous song cycle (based on Chinese poetry) “The Song of the Earth,” and Claude Debussy’s beguiling “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”

And this weekend is the last chance to catch Portland Opera‘s performance of “Tosca” at Keller Auditorium. As I wrote in Willamette Week (whose cover this week is appropriately dedicated to the subject of domestic violence): Following last fall’s edgy, modernist version of Don Giovanni, the company delivers a Tosca for traditionalists: costumes and sets that explicitly evoke the original production’s late 19th-century Roman setting; soapy, melodramatic acting; a taut, sex- and violence-spattered thriller plot tightly directed by Metropolitan opera veteran David Kneuss; and of course Giacomo Puccini’s heart-tuggingly rhapsodic melodies, performed ably and powerfully (sometimes too powerfully for the singers, except for Kara Shay Thomson, whose soprano soars in the title role) by the PO orchestra directed by Joseph Colaneri. In this revival of a production last staged here in 2005, bass Mark Schnaible revels so charismatically in his character Scarpia’s unapologetic villainy that we almost root for the bad guy.



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