trio con brio copenhagen

ArtsWatch Weekly: Play it, Sam

On the 88th day the pianos will play, all over town. Plus: The Japanese Garden reopens, Brett Campbell's music tips, new theater & dance

Wednesday, in case you haven’t been counting, will be the 88th day of 2017.

A piano, as you probably know, has 88 keys.

And that seems like an excellent excuse to throw a big piano party, which is exactly what Portland Piano International is doing with its minimalistically named Piano Day. Portland’s Piano Day, PPI declares, is the first in the United States. The celebration first struck a chord in Germany two years ago when pianist Nils Frahm proclaimed March 29 as Piano Day, and it’s crescendoed rapidly to Japan, Slovenia, Australia, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, France, and elsewhere.

Dooley Wilson at the keyboard, playing “As Time Goes By” in the 1942 Warner Bros. movie “Casablanca.”

So what’s happening? Piano playing. Lots of it, by lots of pianists (no, not Francis Scott Key or Alicia Keys), in lots of styles, from noon to 10 p.m. in four locations: Portland City Hall downtown, All Classical Portland radio headquarters in the Portland Opera building at the east end of the Tilikum Crossing bridge, Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland, and TriMet’s Oregon Zoo MAX Station. Listening’s free, but the pianists are also taking donations for PPI and educational programs, and a little payback is a good thing. Play it, Sam.


Today seems a good time to introduce you to one of our newest correspondents, C.S. Eliot. When the movie Kedi: The Cats of Istanbul prowled into town (it’s landed at Cinema 21 after a couple of sold-out screenings at the Portland International Film Festival) we found ourselves looking for just the right sort of writer to respond to the film’s unusual subject matter, a writer with inside knowledge of the peculiarities of the feline world. And C.S. made a poetic plea to speak up.

Well, all right, it was a yowl. C.S., we regret to report, is an imperious sort, given to stark pronouncements and prone to making unseemly demands on the management. Thus, forthwith, C.S.’s first dispatch for us, ‘Kedi’ review: Turkish delight.

The streetwise cats of Istanbul.

To tell the truth, this partnership is a work in progress. We’re not sure C.S. understands the concept of objectivity at all. But C.S. makes no bones about his opinions (he prefers to leave the bones for the dogs), and C.S. will speak out. There’s no stopping him, really, although you can slow him down if you put out a bowl of tuna juice. Let’s stipulate that a good writer is not necessarily a saint.

In the case of Kedi, not only is C.S. an expert on the subject, he also has a talented collaborator, longtime ArtsWatch correspondent Maria Choban. She speaks Cat semi-fluently and is adept at translating the pith of C.S.’s opinions. We see their partnership as vital to our coverage of the next touring production of Cats to hit town (lyrics and original concept by C.S. Eliot’s distant relative T.S.), and to the Puss in Boots scene in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. And if someone in town will please put up a production of the musical Archy & Mehitabel, C.S. likely will be our representative in the reviewer’s box. We’ve tried, but we just can’t seem to come up with a literate cockroach who’ll work for what we can pay.





Companhia Urbana de Dança at White Bird. Photo: Renato Mangolin

Companhia Urbana de Dança. White Bird brings the energetic Brazilian dance troupe to the Newmark Theatre for shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Born in the shanty towns and suburbs of Rio, the company blends hip-hop, urban, and contemporary dance into an Afro-Brazilian stew.


Trio Con Brio Copenhagen performed at Portland State University.

Trio Con Brio Copenhagen performed at Portland State University.

Even though March went out like a lamb, the Lincoln Hall audience at Portland State University on the month’s final evening might have felt some trepidation before Trio con Brio Copenhagen strode on stage. True, the composer of the first work on the Friends of Chamber Music program, Per Nørgård, is probably Denmark’s most well-known living composer, and the work, Spell, is one of his standards. Yet I’ll wager the vast majority, like me, had never happened to hear it. A Denmark-based group bringing a gift of “Danish modern” from 1973 – mightn’t this be like the proverbial gift from a very different part of Europe, something to be feared?


Chanticleer sings at Portland's Reed College Friday.

Chanticleer sings at Portland’s Reed College Friday.

Don’t worry, this weekend’s dip in Oregon’s usually burgeoning arts schedule is just the usual spring break musicus interruptus… just like that rain outside is only a brief interregnum between our annual pair of spring seasons. There’ll be lots more music to tell you about next weekend, but this one still boasts plenty of musical highlights, including a choral battle of the sexes in Portland, both within Chanticleer’s “She Said/He Said” program, and between that terrific, San Francisco-based all-male choir and two of Portland’s own excellent, all-female vocal ensembles. In fact, hard-choir listeners can catch all three!


Danish modern and more: Trio con Brio Copenhagen performs at Portland State University

Perhaps appropriately, given the new year’s daunting prospects in politics, economics and other affairs, 2012, in Portland classical music, started off with a backward gaze — and a prayer.

In its biggest project ever, involving more than two dozen of the city’s finest singers, Cappella Romana’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s 1910 All-Night Vigil was much more than a concert. Along with the Russian composer’s settings of hymns, canticles and psalms appropriate for the traditional Orthodox Saturday evening service, the Northwest’s pre-eminent vocal ensemble interpolated other choral arrangements by Russian composers of the time and earlier, including Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, creating what felt like an actual liturgical experience and thereby adding depth, breadth and historical context. Yet listeners were there for a musical experience, not a worship service, and the additional selections, well-chosen by CR music director Alexander Lingas, infused welcome stylistic variety to the program, particularly jolting the second half with more animated musical energy. The show also gained variety because the spotlight kept shifting to different soloists and subgroups, and the sound ranged from delicate to exultant. Still, it all felt remarkably integrated despite the music’s divergent eras and styles.

Even though a couple voices sounded a tad frayed on this third of three consecutive performance, and even though the augmented ensemble’s roster was barely sufficient for this music, Cappella Romana’s immaculate attention to detail and diction (they sounded Russian, not Byzantine), and the sheer power and character of those great voices, made the group sound bigger than it was; few other groups of that size would have been capable of generating enough sound to fill a cathedral in that particular music. (I heard the concert at Portland’s Trinity Cathedral, a relatively acoustically “drier” space than the other two, more resonant venues for this program, where they probably sounded much bigger.) As befits a sacred service rather than a stagier setting, the performance felt both restrained and reflective, yet still powerfully moving. As the group left the stage while singing the last of several seasonally appropriate encores, I felt less like applauding (though I did, of course) than saying “Amen.”


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