Weekend MusicWatch: Festivals Unfurl

Let the summer music festivals begin!

Hannah Penn performs in Opera Theater Oregon's Giasone and the Argonauts. Photo: Martin Stabler.

Hannah Penn performs in Opera Theater Oregon’s Giasone and the Argonauts. Photo: Martin Stabler.

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and though the biggies on ArtsWatch’s radar won’t commence for another couple weeks, two worthies this weekend announce the summer season’s beginnings. And while you might have thought opera season was so over, the fat lady actually hasn’t yet — wait, maybe it’s time to retire that one.

Portland Piano International Summer Festival, Friday-Sunday, Lewis & Clark College, Portland. After a one-year hiatus, the orgy of piano master classes, films, clinics, lectures, and of course performances (by young artists in residence and veteran pianists) resumes at a new location. Tasty recitals include June 6 featuring musicians from FearNoMusic, Third Angle, and Resonance Ensemble (music of two of Portland’s top composers, venerable emeritus PSU prof Tomas Svoboda and L&C’s Michael Johanson); June 7 by internationally acclaimed guest artist Alexandre Dossin (music by Leonard Bernstein, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and George Gershwin); and June 8 by PPI artistic director Arnaldo Cohen (music by Manuel de Falla and Felix Mendelssohn).

Improvisation Summit of Portland 2014, Friday-Saturday, Sandbox Studios, Portland. Though mostly associated with jazz these days, improvisation has been a crucial part of music of all kinds from the beginning, and this celebration of spontaneous invention smartly recognizes improv’s role in dance by including some of Portland’s finest choreographers and dancers in the fun. Read my Willamette Week preview.

Tenor Guitar Gathering, Friday-Sunday, various venues, Astoria. The fifth annual convocation of four string fretboard fans features a baker’s dozen of tenor guitar masters from aroung North America.


Giasone and the Argonauts, Opera Theater Oregon, Thursday-Saturday, Hollywood Theatre, Portland. A collection of excellent Portland singers (an especially radiant Hannah Penn, Stacey Murdock, Catherine Olson, Daniel Buchanan, Ian José Ramirez, José Rubio), directed by OTO’s Erica Melton, perform Italian composer’s Francesco Cavalli’s early (1649) Baroque opera that retells the Greek myth — while onscreen, audiences delight in the famous 1963 film featuring Ray Harryhausen’s still-breathtaking (though, after half a century of progress in stop-motion animation, occasionally delightfully cheesy feeling) special effects — and it’s a jolly journey well worth joining. After a tongue in cheek “fashion show” in which the two dozen costumed performers strut their shiny runway stuff (created by Seattle’s Useless Woman and Studio Checha designers) accompanied by an onscreen graphic montage, the music also embodies a contemporary-meets-classical mashup by featuring an astutely chosen anachronistic combination of Baroque and modern instruments, played in modern rather than historical tuning. Thus, Musica Maestrale theorbo master Hideki Yamaya shares the stage not with the usual Baroque continuo partner, a harpsichordist — but with jazzer Chris Gabriel on guitar and steel guitar.

“String players would often improvise a slow melody over the continuo that would support the singer and provide this ‘halo’ of sound during some of the emotionally intense moments in the opera,” Melton, who also adapted the opera score to the movie, explained via email. “Since improvisation was such an important element of baroque style, it seemed logical to look to jazz musicians as an effective modern collaborator with the more traditional theorbo continuo player. Our steel guitar player is a jazz guitarist, so this kind of improvisation is right up his alley — as well as the rockin’ electric guitar solos during the action scenes of the film, based on melodies from the opera. Chris and Hideki come from very different traditions, but both share the element of improvisation and the cross-pollination is really vibrant and fascinating.”

And why the modern instruments? “Electric guitar, being an instrument ‘of the people,’ has also served to reach out to our audiences and guard against the baroque style coming off as overly-stuffy or unapproachable,” Melton wrote. “Drums were indispensable for an action film to build tension and excitement, and to provide the boatman’s stroke that keeps the Argonauts rowing.”

To my ears (and eyes) at last weekend’s performance, the combo worked winningly, reflecting in the music the film’s own collision of ancient and modern. Giasone and the Argonauts is a delightful way to end one music season and begin the next.

Marylhurst University stages The Pirates of Penzance.

Marylhurst University stages The Pirates of Penzance.


Iolanthe, Friday-Sunday, University of Portland. Wait, you thought Portland had had enough Gilbert & Sullivan after Portland Opera’s production of The Pirates of Penzance last month? Mock’s Crest Productions begs to differ. Kristine McIntyre and Tracey Edson lead some of the city’s top singers, including John Vergin, Beth Madsen Bradford, Brian Tierney, Valery Saul, Erik Hundtoft, Alexis Hamilton and more.

The Pirates of Penzance, Saturday and Sunday, St Anne’s Chapel, Marylhurst University. Wait, you thought Portland had enough of The Pirates of Penzance after Portland Opera’s production last month? Ah, but have you heard it directed and narrated by an authentic former “patterman” from England’s D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (which G&S set up in the 1870s to perform their operas), longtime principal comic baritone Alistair Donkin, who’s flying in from the UK? I thought not. Here’s your chance.

The Bat, Living Room Theaters, Portland. This film shows the Vienna State Opera’s recently revived 1972 production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.


In Mulieribus, Sunday, St. Philip Neri Church, Portland. The sublime women’s vocal ensemble sings music by the great English composer William Byrd (conducted by Byrd scholar and Byrd Festival veteran Kerry McCarthy), from major public works like his magnificent Mass for Three Voices to household music sung by women at a time when this wasn’t allowed in public, particularly if the music was associated with the country’s just-displaced Catholicism. Hannah Brewer will also add some of Byrd’s keyboard music. The chance to hear the composer’s music on such an intimate scale is worth seizing, even if you plan to hear more of his music at the Byrd Festival later this summer. Here’s a brief video clip of Dr. McCarthy conducting singers during a workshop on Byrd’s music earlier this week.

Members of the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, Sunday, Emmaus Lutheran Church, Eugene. Some of the city’s top choristers sing arias and songs by Mozart, Handel, Mahler, Puccini and more.

Sing Portland!, Sunday, The Old Church, Portland. Joined by Shoehorn’s Hat Trio, the choir sings Caribbean and Latin American music in a benefit for Ethos Music Center.

Quadraphonnes close the Celebration Works series Sunday afternoon.

Quadraphonnes close the Celebration Works series Sunday afternoon.


Quadraphonnes Saxophone Quartet, Sunday, First Presbyterian Church, Portland. Read my Willamette Week preview of the last concert in this season’s Celebration Works series, a celebration of classical sax.

Graham Lambkin, Sunday, Yale Union, Portland. The New York-based former British punker brings his “organized sound” to the gallery and performance space.

Chamber Music Amici, Wednesday, The Shedd, Eugene. This multi-media concert of American inspired music and images revolving around Dvorak’s beloved “American” quartet, inspired by the great 19th century Czech composer’s sojourn on this side of the pond. The show, which also includes music by Mozart and George Gershwin, also includes projected historic photos of Eugene, Springfield and other Willamette Valley communities, all precisely synchronized to complement the music.


PSU Symphony, Friday, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University. Sounding better than ever under the direction of Ken Selden, the student orchestra plays American composer John Adams’s Scratchband, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4, and Edgard Varese’s Octandre.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Saturday, Newmark Theatre, Portland. The youngsters play Dvorak’s ever-popular Symphony #9, Bruch’s Violin Concerto in g, and music from Leonard Bernstein’s fabulous Candide.


Ernie Watts with the Marc Seales Trio, Saturday, Jimmy Mak’s, Portland. Read my Willamette Week preview of the Grammy winning sax man’s Portland date.

Thollem McDonas with André St. James and Tim DuRoche, Sunday, TaborSpace, Portland. Speaking of spectacular improvisation, three of the best from West Coast jazz (California pianist McDonas, Portland bassist and drummer St. James and DuRoche) convene for a sure-to-be scintillating spontaneous musical conversation.

For the Love of Janice: A Musical Celebration of Janice Scroggins, Monday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland. Friends of the great Portland pianist Janice Scroggins, who died last week, gather for a musical celebration of her life and to raise money for her family. Performers include LaRhonda Steele family, Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Linda Hornbuckle, Thara Memory, Mary Flower, Lloyd Jones, Michael Allen Harrison, Terry Robb, Patrick Lamb, Devin Phillips and more. Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch tribute.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

Comments are closed.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives