time based arts festival

Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra made beautiful music together in 2012.

Cappella Romana and Portland Baroque Orchestra made beautiful music together in 2012.

The pause in performances at the outset of the new year offers a chance to take a deep breath and try to draw some conclusions from the flurry of events that filled Oregon’s — and particularly Portland’s — classical music scene in 2012. Usually, we’re too busy here just trying to tell our readers what’s about to happen or what just happened. So rather than presenting only the usual “here’s what I saw — again” recap, I’ll offer a quick overview, and then say a bit more about what it means. Naturally, I could attend only a fraction of the many worthy performances around even Portland, much less the rest of the state, so this take is far from comprehensive or definitive. And apologies in advance for the worthy work I did see and unintentionally left out– when you attend several concerts per week over the course of a year, it’s easy to let a few slip the memory banks. Moreover, it excludes much worthwhile nonclassical music I heard last year, from taiko and Indian music to jazz, rock and much more.

First, though, we have to note some of the comings and goings in the Oregon classical scene: departures in leadership at the Portland Columbia Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest, and other institutions, and arrivals at the Oregon Mozart Players, Choral Arts Ensemble, Eugene Symphony, Portland Opera and more. Sadly, the music suffered some serious losses — we salute the memory of Anne Dhu McLucas, Obo Addy, Franya Berkman, and others. Classical music is, or should be, ever-renewing.

Peak Performances

The quality of orchestral performances I saw continued to rise, led by the Oregon Symphony, which just seems to get better and better, not only from year to year, but often even from concert to concert. As I noted last spring, and will again soon, I still think the programming caters to too narrow an audience, but last year’s programs boasted a number of relatively fresh gems — from a brilliant little piece called “Drip”  by a young American composer Andrew Norman to newish works by Thomas Ades, Sofia Gubaidulina, John Adams and others — and always able, often superb performances of museum music. I hope the orchestra can continue raising its performance standards under whoever replaces the departed executive director Elaine Calder, but it’s already made such enormous strides in that regard that it now can afford to also look to other areas of improvement — community outreach, contemporary programming, etc. Last season’s concluding concert featuring John Adams’s “City Noir” and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was one of the city’s top classical music events of the 21st century.


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