Weekend MusicWatch: Celebrating the ancestors, mourning the dead

OK, we’re supposed to be leaving the gore behind.

Vagabond Opera celebrates Day of the Dead Friday. But if Halloween didn’t satisfy your bloodlust, necrophilia and other depraved cravings, you can find plenty at Portland Opera’s “Salome,” which opens Friday. Jeff Winslow has ArtsWatch’s, er, heads-up.

Instead of dressing like the dead, you can honor them Friday on All Saints Day / Day of the Dead at Vagabond Opera’s annual Transylvanian Voodoo Ball at downtown Portland’s Star Theater. The show also features the fab Balkan party band Chervona, VO cellist/vocalist and solo artist Ashia Grzesik, belly dancers, guest singers and saxophonist, Butoh performers, and VO’s usual piquant combo of operating vocals, cabaret stylings, and theatrical stage antics. And yes, it’s the last chance to get one more wearing out of that Halloween costume.


A PO production is usually the biggest show in town. But for sheer scale, it’s outgunned this weekend by our top music recommendation: the Oregon Symphony’s performance of one of the last century’s most profound musical achievements, Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” featuring three choirs (300 singers) four vocal soloists, and comparably capacious artistic vision. Winslow weighs in on that one too, but I’ll second his endorsement; I’ve waiting to experience this epic pacifist classic since I saw the Oregon Bach Festival’s performance way back in the 1990s. The symphony had originally scheduled it last season, but its financial crunch forced postponement in favor of a guaranteed house filler, Beethoven’s Symphony #9. I hope listeners will show that the decision to perform this 20th century classic now makes financial as well as artistic sense.

Speaking of Britten, this weekend at the Newport Performing Arts Center, another Oregon orchestra, the Newport Symphony,  performs the searing Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (which the OSO has also performed and recorded) from the composer’s great opera, “Peter Grimes,” along with Beethoven’s ever-popular Symphony #5.

Another great Fifth (Tchaikovsky’s) tops the bill on Friday and Sunday at Beaverton’s Village Baptist Church, where the Beaverton Symphony also plays Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto (starring soloist Kunito Nishitani) and continues its commendable series of showcases of Northwest composers with long time Seattle Symphony conductor in residence Samuel Jones’s “Listen Now My Children,” based on folk songs from the Texas frontier; Jones taught at Houston’s Rice University for many years.

On Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall, the Vancouver Symphony brings in internationally renowned Portland harmonica virtuoso and tango musician (who’s performed in various classical contexts around the state in recent years) to play 20th century English composer Gordon Jacob’s 1957 Five Pieces for Harmonica and Orchestra as well as the great 20th century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s classic, “Libertango.”

For a very different orchestral experience, check Portland’s Refuge Saturday, featuring Bohemian Dub Orchestra, whose press release describes as “a 40+ piece classical concert orchestra that collaborates on glitchy trip-hop beats with the contemporary group Medium Troy, a psychedelic fantasia with projection mapping and dance.”


Britten rules again on Sunday afternoon’s concert at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, where the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble  and Bend’s Central Oregon Mastersingers join forces for another wonderful opera excerpt, the dances from his “Gloriana,” and the songs the great contemporary choral composer Morten Lauridsen (who grew up in Beaverton) wrote in celebration of Portland, “Chansons des Roses,” plus more Anglo American tunes. Lauridsen returns to Portland next week.

And there’s still more Britten music and that of Charles Villiers Stanford in another Sunday afternoon performance, this one by Portland’s Trinity Choir at their Episcopal Cathedral.

Another requiem (considerably lighter in weight) by another English composer that also honors departed ancestors is on the program at Sunday afternoon’s Celebration Works concert at downtown Portland’s First Presbyterian Church, when Patrick McDonough, who directs Portland’s all star choir, The Ensemble, leads the church choir in John Rutter’s popular Requiem.

The celebrated Vienna Boys Choir sings Austrian classics and contemporary pop and world music tunes (in fact, much of the program is music by living composers along with the obligatory Johann Strauss fluff) on Saturday at downtown Portland’s First Baptist Church (presented by Friends of Chamber Music) and Monday (presented by the Oregon Bach Festival), although that performance is sold out.

Also in Eugene, First Methodist church hosts a Nov. 3 All Saints Day choral concert with music by Schütz, Tallis and more.

As if Portland Opera weren’t busy enough this week, it also presents the first concert in its annual resident artist recital program at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium on Tuesday, with baritone Alexander Elliott (accompanied by pianist Nicholas Fox) singing a splendid program of music by — you guessed it — Britten, Ravel, Barber, Korngold, Paul Bowles (a rising young New York composer and music critic before he headed off to Tangiers), Stefano Donaudy, American composer Tom Cipullo and more.

Soprano Inessa Karakuts Crown joins veteran Portland pianist Jim Fischer and other guests in a program of Russian folk, classical, and contemporary songs at downtown Portland’s historic Old Church.


45th Parallel is more of a presenting concept than an ensemble, which means it can offer a diverse range of classical performers and styles. Its founder and pointman, violin virtuoso Greg Ewer, one of Oregon’s most versatile classical musicians, plays the core classical repertoire in his Oregon Symphony position, contemporary sounds with Third Angle, and historically informed Baroque and Classical period repertoire with Portland Baroque Orchestra. That last side takes the stage Tuesday night at Portland’s Grace Memorial Episcopal Church, when Ewer joins fellow switch-hitting PBO fiddler Adam LaMotte, plus Hillary Oseas and Dorien de Leon, in an attractive program of Classical era string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. This recommended concert (co-sponsored by Portland’s all classical radio station) is especially noteworthy for being played on the gut strings used when this great music was written. As with PBO concerts, this chamber ensemble playing on period instruments will make the music sound very different (more nuanced, softer, and more transparent) from what most casual classical listeners are used to (equal temperament, steel strings).

Other musical benefits for good causes Tuesday: Planned Parenthood’s Masque: A Sex-Positive Celebration of the Arts at Portland’s Holocene, which features the “medieval French sex pop” vocal trio Bergerette, other Classical Revolution PDX performers and more, and Tuesday afternoon’s Little Ears concert at the Old Church, featuring musician Steve Cohen, which boosts kids arts programs.

Omar Sosa performs Tuesday night at Portland's Mission Theater. Photo: Yannick Perrin.

Omar Sosa performs Tuesday night at Portland’s Mission Theater. Photo: Yannick Perrin.


Singer Valerie Day (from the old Portland pop band Nu Shooz) and the great jazz pianist and PSU prof Darrell Grant continue the series of Monday night benefits for Portland Chamber Orchestra at Jimmy Mak’s jazz club in Portland’s Pearl District. They’ll reprise some of the songbook standards and other music performed at their inventive collaboration with Oregon Health Sciences University a few years ago.

Again with the disappearing genre boundaries! This time it’s the renowned Cuban born jazz pianist Omar Sosa, who’s paying tribute to the greatest of all jazz albums, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” at Portland’s Mission Theater Tuesday night with original, African- and Latin American inflected music that references its great predecessor without simply imitating it. Sosa’s previous Portland appearance was one of my favorites that year.

German jazz singer/ngoni (predecessor to the banjo) player Leni Stern brings her trio to Portland’s Camellia Lounge Friday to play jazzy African music, or vice versa.

Finally, on this Halloween, one more song by the late, great Lou Reed that, despite the title, isn’t really about Halloween at all, but is appropriate for the next day, when we celebrate our honored dead, which now includes not just the characters in the song, but the songwriter too.

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