Zorá Quartet

ArtsWatch Weekly: all aboard for Eugene

A Eugene cultural tour, Anne Boleyn's music book, a little shop of horror and a full gallop, monkey business, Yetis, two top art shows, "Hughie," roots music, Alien Boy, guns galore, spirit of '76

There are lots of good reasons to go to Eugene that have nothing to do with Ducks or football. Sure, the presence of the University of Oregon has a lot to do with the quality of things down the valley: two of ArtsWatch’s favorite things, for instance, the Oregon Bach Festival and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, are intimately tied to the university, and a lot of what’s good about Oregon’s new-music scene emanates from the halls and studios of the university’s music department. But the university is far from the only game in town. However you keep your cultural scorecard, Eugene – population roughly 160,000, metro area another 200,000 added to that – consistently hits above its weight.

Here at ArtsWatch we like to keep tabs on what’s happening in the Emerald City, and lately that’s been quite a bit. For starters, check out Gary Ferrington’s Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car-free, arts-stuffed weekend, a sort of cultural travelogue for Portlanders looking for a close-to-home adventure. Go ahead, plan an autumn getaway. And if you like, feel free to slip in a football game or a track meet on the side, too.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

We’ve also picked up some good features from some top Eugene writers:

— Photographer and arts journalist Bob Keefer, author of the invaluable Eugene Art Talk online journal, has undertaken an almost year-long project of following the development of a new version of The Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet, with a fresh score by Oregon composer Kenji Bunch and choreography by EB’s longtime artistic director, Toni Pimble, who is recognized nationally as a creator of vivid and original ballets. Keefer will write about ten installments leading up to the premiere next spring, and ArtsWatch will reprint them once they’ve debuted on Eugene Art Talk. Here’s Episode 2, focusing on designer Nadya Geras-Carson.


Zorá Quartet review: A program that tells a story

Chamber Music Northwest concert shows European classical music's range of expression

There’s something quite charming about a well-programmed concert. I love it when the different elements all work together to tell a coherent story, or present familiar compositions from a new perspective. A July Chamber Music Northwest concert at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre, performed by the Zorá Quartet and other CMNW artists, did just that. The concert featured compositions by Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Ludwig van Beethoven, in performances by CMNW alumni and Protege Project Artists, and the selection was just right: from light-hearted violin duos to a bitter 20th-century quintet for piano and strings, ending on the profound final string quartet of one of the tradition’s giants.

Ani Kavafian. Photo: Bernard Mindich.

Ani Kavafian. Photo: Bernard Mindich.

Teacher and student duo Ani Kavafian and Benjamin Hoffman began the evening with selections from Béla Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins, composed in 1931. It is always nice to see teachers performing with their students, passing the torch and revitalizing traditions (even relatively new traditions) for the next generation, and Bartók wrote these duos with just such a pedagogical purpose in mind; as with his Mikrokosmos, Bartók’s identity as a composer cannot be separated from his identity as an educator and as a champion of folk music. Teacher Kavafian and student Hoffman (a student at Yale in his first season with CMNW’s Protege Project) performed a well-balanced selection, covering a fair portion of the vast range of Bartók’s quirky and profound musical personality. Performers and audience alike were visibly, audibly enthusiastic, chuckling and toe-tapping at the delightful neo-folk miniatures, which made it feel more like a village gathering than a formal classical music concert.

Now in her 22nd season with CMNW, Kavafian’s joyful demeanor during her brief time on stage felt like a homecoming—a performance for friends and peers in a familiar space, showing off her pupil and generally having a good time. Although any of Bartók’s many chamber pieces could have made for a good first act, the decision to open with such life-affirming and humanistic music started the concert’s story on just the right note.


Chamber Music Northwest reviews: Unspoiled by success

Where does a composer go after reaching the peak of popularity? Two concerts trace Beethoven's path from excellence to exploration


Ludwig van Beethoven’s extraordinary fame rests mostly on works he wrote in his mid- to late 30s. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you probably know parts of his third (“Heroic”) and fifth (da-da-da-DAH) symphonies. If you are, you undoubtedly know his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, his violin concerto, and his last two piano concertos. String quartet lovers have his three “Razumovsky” quartets, informally named after the generous patron who commissioned them. They’re the only string quartets in the pantheon, but they fully measure up to their fellow icons.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet, Chamber Music Northwest Protégé Project Artists just a few years ago, have since catapulted themselves toward a different pantheon after sweeping the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, winning First Prize and all three Special Prizes. Who better to bring Portland audiences Beethoven’s mid period string quartet masterpieces, as they did at CMNW’s July 11 concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium? They showed such mastery that even a critic could just relax and luxuriate in Beethoven’s endlessly inventive music.


The soulful Zorá Quartet deserved a bigger audience

A free Chamber Music Northwest community concert was sparsely attended, but the Zorá Quartet came to play


Sunday evening’s Zorá Quartet concert at Clackamas Community College was refreshingly short (about an hour) and delightfully performed. Unfortunately, the free concert was deplorably attended. About 50 people heard this high-spirited soulful presentation of Beethoven and Debussy string quartets at Niemeyer Center. The concert was Chamber Music Northwest’s first free offering in the area in its 46-year history. Let’s hope the poor turnout doesn’t make it the last for Clackamas County or other suburban communities.

Zorá, which means “sunrise” in Bulgarian, is a protégé, or apprentice, group at the festival this summer. Its members – from Bangkok, the United States, Shanghai, and Melilla, Spain – are stupendous musicians in graduate chamber-music studies at Indiana University. They play like well-seasoned pros tuned into one another for years, but they play with so much exuberant passion, they practically fall out of their seats. They are the future of chamber music.

You’ll have another chance to hear them. They perform again at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, at Alberta Rose Theater.


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