Weekend MusicWatch: American Tunes and more

Darrell Grant's "The Territory" is a highlight of Chamber Music Northwest.

Darrell Grant’s “The Territory” is a highlight of Chamber Music Northwest.

On this most hallowed of national holidays, we Americans typically celebrate by partaking in the ancient, sacred traditions that made this country great: overeating unhealthy food and blowing shit up.

This weekend, Chamber Music Northwest offers an alternative – or at least an additional – way to celebrate the American spirit. To its great credit, and to the benefit of classical music fans who want to experience the creativity of our own living compatriots, the annual summer festival is devoting two concerts to the music of contemporary American composers.

On Thursday night, before the bombs burst in air, the festival presents music by some of this country’s most honored composers, all born in 1938, from neo romantic John Corigliano to thorny modernist Charles Wuorinen to Joan Tower to John Harbison to William Bolcom, who’ll perform American songs with his wife, the famed mezzo soprano and Portland native Joan Morris.

But the big news — and maybe the Oregon music event of the season — is Saturday and Sunday’s CMNW concerts, featuring an ambitious new work, commendably commissioned by CMNW, by one of the most valuable players in Oregon music, jazz pianist and composer,and Portland State University music prof Darrell Grant. Touching on the Missoula Floods, Chief Joseph’s surrender, the World War II internment of Japanese-Oregonians, and other landmark events in Oregon history, and also some equally meaningful if lesser known people, places and moments, Grant’s nine-part musical evocation of Oregon’s history, “The Territory,” will be premiered by local and national jazz and classical stars. These highly recommended concerts also include a pair of other jazz-classical kissing cousins by Maurice Ravel (his bluesy piano and violin sonata) and George Gershwin’s ever-bustling “An American in Paris.”

Then our short national nightmare will be over we can all go back to worshipping at the tombs of our dead European betters, which constitutes the vast majority of the music that dominates Oregon classical concerts. Monday and Tuesday’s CMNW shows feature the Miró Quartet, violinists Martin Beaver and Philip Setzer, cellist and pianist Alessio Bax playing Beethoven.

The Dover Quartet comes to CMNW next week.

The Dover Quartet comes to CMNW next week.

Wednesday night inaugurates the series of classical-in-the-clubs  shows that CMNW has been staging the last few years in order to bring classical music to the unwashed hipsters who frequent the rock and/or roll shows purveyed there, and they’ve been among the most fun and rewarding chamber concerts of the last few summers. The first, at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge, includes the young Dover Quartet, which formed at Juilliard in 2008, playing Shostakovich’s postwar String Quartet #3, and two more impressive young musicians, Yekwon Sunwoo and Benjamin Beilman, playing piano and violin works by Messiaen and Schubert. It’s an excellent program, but after hearing the festival’s young composer in residence, Andy Akiho, demonstrate his inventiveness and mastery of that unlikeliest of classical instruments, the steel drum, at CMNW’s BodyVox concerts last week, I’m really looking forward to hearing his 2010 piece for that instrument and steel pan, In/Exchange. The Dovers also play the annual CMNW free noon show Monday, July 8  at downtown Portland’s Oregon Historical Society.

Another most welcome summer series begins next week at Portland’s Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden, whose alfresco “Tuesdays by Twilight” series opens with the jazzy retro-swing female vocal trio, The Stolen Sweets at Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden,239 Northwest Everett Street.

Of course, there IS another festival going on in Oregon, and it really heats up this weekend in Eugene. Gary Ferrington told ArtsWatchers all about the upcoming Living Music Series from the Bach Festival’s Composers Symposium. On Friday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, the great organist Paul Jacobs performs an all-Bach organ concert. Saturday’s symbolically poignant passing of the baton concert at  at Eugene’s Hult Center features retiring founding music director Helmuth Rilling and incoming music director Halls both on the podium in music by Brahms and Mendelssohn.

On Monday, another festival veteran, pianist Jeffrey Kahane, joins the festival orchestra in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4 and violinist Chee Yun is the soloist in Mozart’s brilliant final violin concerto. The program includes Haydn’s magnificent 99th symphony. On Tuesday, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy singing Britten, Bernstein and more at the Hult.

Next week, the OBF extends its reach into Portlandia again, with Jacobs playing Bach again, this time on the organ at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Sunday, the Stangeland choir repeating its program there Monday, and on Tuesday at First Baptist Church, one of the best concerts of the summer, Portland Baroque Orchestra performing some of J.S. Bach’s greatest hits, including the Orchestral Suite #3, with the most famous Air in music, and Brandenburg Concerto #5, whose epic harpsichord solo will be played by Matthew Halls.

There’s plenty of other great music happening in Oregon this weekend, from Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival to Vagabond Opera at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theater to 3 Leg Torso at northeast Portland’s Tony Starlight’s, the Ocular Concert and Wishbone Project  at Portland’s Backspace (all on Friday night) and much more. Go check it out, and then go watch shit blow up.

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