Weekend MusicWatch: Shots of Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

Undoubtedly one of the last century’s musical giants, Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was as prolific as he was bold, compiling one of the most impressive outputs of string quartets since Beethoven. Twice in the past decade, including this week, Portland has been lucky to hear a complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 quartets, many containing the kind of personal music the Soviet authorities wouldn’t countenance in his big orchestral works. Beginning Sunday, March 10, at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, Friends of Chamber Music is giving Oregon another complete look at the century’s most impressive single chamber music cycle, courtesy of four concerts by the young Jerusalem Quartet, along with a welcome series of free talks, rehearsals and other audience outreach programs. Some concerts are sold out, so hurry! The series ends on Thursday. FOCM has posted some useful info on its website;  here’s a quick guide to the whole quartet cycle.

Led by Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu, the Oregon Symphony joins the Shostakovich orgy this weekend with a concert featuring his chaotic fifteenth and final symphony, containing quotations from earlier composers including Rossini and Wagner and much more, all very much worth exploring. The programs also include Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bare Mountain” (in the composer’s seldom heard original arrangement) and Saint Saens’ Spanish-scented third violin concerto, featuring soloist Benjamin Schmid.

Both FOCM and OSO shows are part of March Music Moderne, the annual Portland new music festival that gets going in earnest this weekend at Portland’s Community Music Center, with a free concert by the Free Marz String Trio and guests featuring more Shostakovich, ten short marches written by Oregon composers commemorating the centennial of Stravinsky’s music-changing masterpiece, “The Rite of Spring,” and more, including Lutoslawski’s epic string quartet. MMM’s Saturday night show at southeast Portland’s Piano Fort is an installment of The Late Now, the strangest and most fun talk show/performance event you’ve ever seen, featuring more musical modernity, humor, and more. On Sunday at the Community Music Center, Classical Revolution makes one of its many contributions to Oregon music with its showcase of new works by 10 Oregon composers.


The Mousai perform at downtown Portland’s First Presbyterian Church Sunday.

It’s not part of March Music Moderne, but there’s no more appealing concert of contemporary music in Oregon this weekend than the Mousai’s Sunday afternoon showcase at First Presbyterian Church’s Celebration Works series. A nice complement to — and certainly more contemporary and more American than– MMM’s generally cooler, Euro-leaning midcentury modern focus, the concert offers the characteristically American (north and south) rhythms and melodies of Brian DuFord’s Gershwinesque “New York Streetscapes,” Kevin Gray’s African-influenced prepared piano work “Mebasi,” Montana composer David Maslanka’s bucolic “Blue Mountain Meadow,” Paquito D’Rivera’s (better known to jazz fans, and a fine composer) “Danzon,” and a relative oldie, French composer Darius Milhaud’s (who taught for many years at California’s Mills College) 1938 medieval-flavored wind work “King Renee’s Chimney.” The concert also includes the premiere of a brand new work the group commendably commissioned from a young Oregon composer who was featured at last summer’s Chamber Music Northwest, Katrina Kramarchuk.

There’s contemporary music and American music on the program at Consonare Chorale’s Saturday concert at Portland’s First Congregational Church of Christ, with choral music by leading American choral composer Eric Whitacre, Native American music (accompanied by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe Drumming Group), and more. At Eugene’s First Christian Church Saturday night, the Oregon Mozart Players play two works by contemporary composers: “Last Round,” Osvaldo Golijov’s plangent homage to his Argentine compatriot, the tango nuevo composer Astor Piazzolla, and the “Mirabai Songs” by another Boston-area-based composer, John Harbison, one of America’s most respected composers. Oh, and they’ll also play music by their namesake: Mozart’s own quartet arrangement of his Piano Concerto #12, with OMP music director Kelly Kuo playing the solo role.

And there is actually some even older music onstage in this month of modernity, the top choice being Musica Maestrale’s Saturday night show at Portland’s Community Music Center, featuring two top Northwest sopranos: Catherine Olson and Melanie Downie Robinson (familiar from the many other ensembles they’ve sung with) joining lutenist Hideki Yamaya and recorder virtuoso Polly Gibson in a splendid Italian Baroque program of music by Monterverdi, Strozzi, Frescobaldi and more. And there’s more Baroque music in Salem Sunday afternoon when the Salem Chamber Orchestra hosts the fun and fabulous Red Priest ensemble in music by Bach, Vivaldi and more.

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