Weekend MusicWatch: Spring Rounds

Granted, Oregon’s most significant musical event of the weekend –and maybe the summer – isn’t strictly a sonic experience. But just because Agniezska Laska Dancers will be cavorting to the choreographer’s new setting of the work that ignited 20th century music doesn’t mean that a live performance of Igor Stravinsky’s jolting ballet score, “The Rite of Spring,” isn’t essential for listeners, too. Just a week after the 100th anniversary of maybe the most famous premiere in music and dance history, Ken Selden will conduct the Portland State University Orchestra in Portland’s only live performance of the full score at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Friday night. The orchestra will also play contemporary German composer H.K. Gruber’s characteristically fun early work, the jazzy, bluesy 1964 “Manhattan Broadcasts.” It’s likely to sell out, but there’ll be another opportunity to catch it June 29 at the Astoria Festival.

 Agnieszka Laska Dancers perform Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" with the PSU Orchestra Friday night at Lincoln Hall. Photo: Chris Leck.

Agnieszka Laska Dancers perform Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with the PSU Orchestra Friday night at Lincoln Hall. Photo: Chris Leck.

Literally hundreds of performances of the Rite – from Imani Winds’ wind ensemble version (coming soon to Chamber Music Northwest) to the Bad Plus’s jazz trio version at California’s Ojai Festival this week– are happening around the world in celebration of Stravinsky, Nijinsky and Diaghilev’s masterpiece. The glimpse of Laska’s choreography I caught at a March Music Moderne event suggested that her version will salute Nijinsky’s original choreography. Selden has done a masterful job with the PSU student orchestra in every performance I’ve seen, including some really challenging music. This “Spring” promises to be a highlight of the summer season.

ALD The Rite… (work in progress excerpt) Spring Rounds from Agnieszka Laska on Vimeo.

Speaking of Selden, he’ll also conduct one of the orchestras in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony‘s concert Sunday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. New music director closes his first season with the orchestra by conducting Dvorak’s popular Symphony #8 and Brahms’s “Academic Festival Overture,” and veteran Portland composer Michael Allen Harrison will join the MYS Jazz Band and orchestra for a performance of his Samba.

It’s righteous to celebrate the Rite, but really, the best way to honor that forward-looking landmark’s legacy would be to go check out some actual contemporary music from our own time and place, and on Saturday, you can do just that Saturday afternoon at the latest Seventh Species New Music concert at Michelle’s Piano Company, 600 SE Stark St., Portland. Indefatigable composer/impresario Gary Noland has been presenting new works in the series in Berkeley, Eugene and lately Portland for years. This edition features music by the dean of Portland composers, Tomas Svoboda, plus former Turtle Island String Quartet member Katrina Wreede, ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, David Denniston, and of course Noland himself and more, all performed by Portland musicians and guest artists from Florida on piano, viola, and clarinet.

Bountiful Benefits

The Oregon orchestra that probably best reflects Stravinsky’s spirit of discovery and collaboration is Portland Chamber Orchestra, which regularly programs contemporary music and partners with other artists and institutions. To benefit this important Oregon music institution, singers Rocky Blumhagen and Susannah Mars have been performing an original revue, “Oh, Those Gershwin Boys!”, which, through songs and dialogue purports to tell composer George’s story from the perspective of his brother Ira and his longtime paramour, the composer (and one-time Oregonian) Kay Swift. The concerts Saturday night at Hillsboro’s Century High School and Sunday afternoon at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel will also feature PCO musicians backing violinist Lindsay Deutsch in her arrangement of George’s ever-popular “Rhapsody in Blue” featuring her instrument.

The Gershwins were early Broadway champions, of course, and you can hear a survey of eight decades of the Great White Way when the Conchords Chorale sing theater songs from “Hair,” “Jersey Boys,” “Cabaret” and more on Friday and Sunday at Portland’s Old Church. And in Eugene next week, The Shedd opens its summer theatricals season with a new production of  the frothy 1925 Broadway smash “No, No Nanette.” This Friday, the Shedd brings back the great jazz guitarist Frank Vignola.

Other worthy Portland institutions are on the receiving end of a music benefit on Monday, when Portland Piano International and the Portland Japanese Garden (currently celebrating its half century anniversary with a superb exhibition of works by Isamu Noguchi) bring glamorous Russian-American pianist Lola Astanova to the Gerding Theater in Portland’s Pearl District to play music by Scriabin, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and more.

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