Weekend MusicWatch: Summer sights and sounds

Filmusik in the Park: Gamera vs. Zigra from Filmusik on Vimeo.

The best things in life are free, especially in the summer. There’s French music (Debussy, Faure, 20th century classical/jazz crossover composer Claude Bolling, et plus in a free show Saturday at southeast Portland’s Community Music Center, courtesy of flutist Robert Beall and his colleagues. Or you can head over to nearby Sewallcrest Park to hear Willamette Radio Workshop voice actors dub corny English dialogue over a screening of the 1971 Japanese monster flick Gamera vs. Zigra. The free screening is part of Portland’s Filmusik series, which pairs composers and musicians with old films and results in new, original live soundtracks. This original score is written by one of Oregon’s most promising young composers, Justin Ralls, founder of Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project.

Beyond that, this weekend again looks sparse for classical music events in Oregon, with the biggest being the annual William Byrd Festival’s closing liturgical service (Saturday night’s performance of the English Renaissance composer’s magnificent Mass for Four Voices) and concert  (Sunday night’s survey of motets and anthems by Byrd and some his English colleagues). English organist Mark Williams conducts the excellent Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia in both performances.

It’s not technically a weekend show, but classical music fans might want to head to downtown Portland’s First Christian Church Monday to hear a live recording and performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s late masterpiece, The Song of the Earth. Portland State University music professor Ken Selden, who must rank as one of the state’s most valuable music leaders, will conduct an all-star cast led by the great Portland-based opera singer (and Met veteran) Richard Zeller, which may surprise those familiar with the score, whose vocal part (German settings of Chinese poems) is almost always performed by an alto, not a baritone, but which the composer himself permitted. Selden’s Martingale Ensemble also features such well-known Portland classical musicians as Oregon Symphony/45th Parallel violinist Greg Ewer, Florestan Trio/Third Angle cellist Hamilton Cheifetz and pianist Janet Coleman, Portland Youth Philharmonic music director David Hattner on clarinet, organist Douglas Schneider, percussionist Florian Conzetti and many others.

This will be the second time a reduced version of Mahler’s not-quite-a-symphony has been performed in Portland recently. A somewhat similar arrangement performed at the summer 2011 Chamber Music Northwest showed that, with the right performers, smaller-scale forces can still make a case for the usual Mahlerian megalorchestra.

It’s also Selden’s second shot at a mini-version of what was originally a full-orchestra Mahler original. Last year, the Martingales performed and recorded the chamber orchestra arrangement of the composer’s Symphony #4, to positive reviews. (By the way, if you want to hear an Oregon take on Mahler’s original, tune into Portland’s all classical radio station, KQAC, Sunday at 1 pm, as its invaluable Played in Oregon show will feature Portland Youth Philharmonic’s recent performance, along with music by another fine young people’s classical music institution, Portland Symphonic Girlchoir. The program also runs on Thursdays at 5 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm on Eugene’s KWAX radio, and you can also hear the show on demand for the next couple weeks  here; click “On Demand” and then scroll down to this week’s Played in Oregon.) The Martingale fills a void in Portland classical music in that it can perform the sometimes-neglected mid-sized repertoire that doesn’t require a full symphony orchestra but is too large for a chamber ensemble, somewhat like Eugene’s Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra.

Wallachian dance Musica Maestrale
Polish Music at Polish Hall (Aug. 17, 2012)

A/V by North Pacific Music

The same goes for Oregon Baroque music. While Portland Baroque Orchestra can handle the big concertos and suites of the 17th and 18th century, it’s a treat to see the emergence of several smaller ensembles that can handle the smaller scale works. Last weekend, one of them, Musica Maestrale, introduced me and and a few dozen other enthusiasts to a number of composers I’d never even heard of, much less heard: Szarzynski, Milwid, Dlugoraj and more. When the attendees at north Portland’s un-air conditioned St. Stanislaus Church weren’t fanning ourselves with the excellent programs, we were reading them to find out more about these mostly undeservedly obscure Baroque-era Polish composers. The estimable quartet (lutenist/theorbist/guitarist Hideki Yamaya, who performs in several ensembles, PBO principal violist Victoria Gunn Pich, Seattle viola da gamba player Polly Gibson, and singer Catherine Olson) offered lucid explanations and graceful performances of music that should be heard more often. There’s a lot more to Baroque music than Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and even German and Italian music as a whole. Groups like Musica Maestrale perform a valuable –not to mention enjoyable — service by revealing them to listeners.

At another Portland church Friday, I heard a pulsating new work, Corvallis composer Dana Reason’s Pauline’s Polka, dedicated to her mentor, the great American composer Pauline Oliveros, on her 80th birthday. Performed at the last of four August noon concerts at downtown Portland’s St. James church by duo pianists Angela Carlson and Rebecca Jeffers, it shared the program with music by Danzi, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak and Anderson & Roe’s Greg Anderson.  Interspersing a few special effects amid rollicking, slightly dissonant passages punctuated by spacious stretches that evoke Oliveros’s well-known “deep listening” works, it’s a worthy tribute to a deserving American music legend; I hope to hear it again soon.

Speaking of mentors, one of the greatest musical talents to emerge from Oregon this decade, Esperanza Spalding, honors hers — principally the great Portland jazz educator Thara Memory — at a benefit concert for his American Music Program, which teaches Oregon teenagers about jazz and gives the best opportunities for further study and performance. Along with singer and bassist Spalding (who’s performed at the White House, won a Grammy, opened for Stevie Wonder, and toured the world in the past couple years), Sunday’s concert at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in northwest Portland’s Pearl Disctrict features another rising young Portland jazzer (and AMP graduate), Hailey Niswanger, the fine R&B/blues singers Janice Scroggins and Linda Hornbuckle, and other AMP alumni and Portland jazzers.

With classical music performance so rare this month, it’s prime time for CD reviews, and you can see my latest batch of impressions of new releases by Portland composer Bonnie Miksch, cellist/composer Adam Hurst, Chamber Music Northwest’s David Shifrin and friends, here.

Meanwhile, here’s a few snapshots of sights and sounds I saw and heard performed outdoors in downtown Portland this summer — a reminder that in Oregon during the sunny months, art happens not just in concert halls and stages and on CDs and computers, but all around us.

A demonstration of the traditional Chinese guzheng
(zither) at Portland’s Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden.


Portland poet David Abel reads during one of the
Monday night Poetry on the Piazza events
 at Portland’s Director Park.


Singers and dancers enlivened Portland’s Pioneer
Courthouse Square during last weekend’s India Day.

Members of the Portland Timbre sang a cappella
at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

The Underscore Orkestra performs at
Saturday’s Portland Farmers Market.

Oregon Ballet Theater dancers performed all week
in downtown Portland’s Director Park.

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