the esoterics

The Ensemble.

The Ensemble.


April bowed out with a hot week in Puddletown, and it was a hot week for contemporary choral music too. The first weekend heard The Ensemble, Friday at First Christian Church downtown, singing music all from the last 25 years, followed by the spring concerts of Oregon Repertory Singers (at First United Methodist) and the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland (at The Old Church), each in two shows that at least nodded in that direction. Cappella Romana kept things simmering with their concert the following Friday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, featuring Eugene composer Robert Kyr’s environmentally themed magnum opus A Time for Life. The next day, as they reprised it in Seattle, one of that town’s most adventurous groups, The Esoterics, returned the favor at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall with a program of mostly new music celebrating the forest world, “Sylvana.” The woods may be cool, dark and deep, but the heat was on to the finish.


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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.


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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