Weekend MusicWatch: Heat Wave

Slavic choir, Bach Festival director retires, Bodyvox with CMNW, "Rite" in Astoria, and more!

BodyVox joins Chamber Music Northwest Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

BodyVox joins Chamber Music Northwest Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

After a few weeks when Oregon’s classical music scene – like the weather – cooled off a bit everywhere except the coast, stages and porches are heating up again with some of the hottest performances of the year. The big news this weekend is the opening of Oregon’s biggest classical music festival. I’ve already written quite a bit elsewhere about this summer’s Oregon Bach Festival, founding music director Helmuth Rilling’s last at the helm, so check here  for a quick overview of the highlights, here  for this weekend’s picks, here for a look at the passing of the baton from Rilling to Matthew Halls, and here for a profile of this year’s rising star, Nicholas Phan, fresh off his Falstaffian fill-in with Portland Opera, who’ll be singing in a slew of concerts throughout the festival beginning this weekend, as well as at Chamber Music Northwest next month.

Helmuth Rilling retires as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival this summer.

Helmuth Rilling retires as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival this summer.

The Bach Festival’s contemporary music wing, the Composers Symposium, doesn’t open till Tuesday, in a concert composed of new choral music by the emerging composers who are participating in the University of Oregon-sponsored symposium; you can read my preview here. But this weekend does offer a splendid opportunity to experience today’s sounds, while not giving up on the outdoor opportunities that make summer classical music programming so difficult in Oregon. On Saturday, Third Angle New Music Ensemble, which has long been blazing trails geographically as well as musically by presenting performances that allow the audience to stroll to several settings rather than just sit in one (which is healthier, too!), presents its newest innovation. Similar to its last “concert” – one of the year’s best – at different spots in Portland’s Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden, Porch Music presents small ensembles plying their trade at five different homes in Northeast Portland’s historic Irvington neighborhood, and previewing the terrific chamber group’s upcoming season in the process.

I recently enjoyed a lovely city walk in that area at the height of the spring flower season, and can recommend combining a pre-performance perambulation to take advantage of the predicted summery conditions. The music is even more appealing: a Piazzolla tango, a work by the fine Peruvian-American composer Gabriela Lena Frank, jazz, music from the winners of the ensemble’s valuable composition competition, and more, in one of the summer’s most attractive musical adventures.

You could actually make it to both Third Angle starting at 4 pm and the weekend’s top choral concert, which happens at Northeast Portland’s nearby St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church at 7:30 Saturday night (or go for the Sunday performance at 4 pm), when ViVoce, the 19-woman a cappella choir of Portland Revels, sings music from across Eastern Europe (Finland, Bulgaria, Armenia, Croatia, Slovakia, and beyond), England and America – including a piece by Portland composer Joan Szymko. The concert includes storytelling by Ithica Tell and Bob Sterry.

For some earlier chamber music from way back in the 20th century, check out Chamber Music Northwest’s glorious opening weekend. The concerts this Thursday, Saturday and Sunday feature the annual summer festival’s now-regular collaboration with BodyVox dance, and the return of one of classical music’s most appealing ensembles, Imani Winds, whose ability to connect with audiences (in part by performing original and other contemporary music) rivals their magnificent musicality. With BodyVoxers cavorting along, the Imanis and some of the festival’s other sterling performers (cellist Fred Sherry, violists Yura Lee and Paul Neubauer, violinist Ani Kavafian, young percussionist/composer Andy Akiho, harpist Bridget Kibbey) will play one of the early 20th century’s most alluring works, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet, plus part of his equally lovely String Quartet and Debussy’s beguiling Sacred and Secular Dances for Harp and String Quartet, along the Imanis’ signature original, Umoja, by their flutist, Valerie Coleman, plus tunes by Sibelius, Brahms, Bartok, Piazzolla, jazz clarinetist and composer Paquito D’Rivera and more.

Then on Monday, the Imanis and friends return to Reed College for another of the summer’s most irresistible programs drawn from one history’s most musically fertile times and places, Paris in the 1910s and ’20s: still another Ravel masterpiece, his astonishing Sonata for Violin and Cello, Kodaly’s Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, Poulenc’s bountifully breezy Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet, with CMNW fave Anna Polonsky at the keyboard, and culminating in another centennial arrangement of the “Rite of Spring” (which premiered in Paris) for the Imanis.


Agnieszka Laska Dancers perform The Rite of Spring at the Astoria Music Festival Saturday. Photo: Chris Leck.

And speaking of the Rite, if you missed Agnieszka Laska Dancers world premiere of her new choreography to Stravinsky’s masterpiece with the Portland State University orchestra earlier this month (as I did, alas), you can catch it at the closing weekend of the Astoria Music Festival Saturday night, this time accompanied by Third Angle’s Susan Smith and FearNoMusic’s Jeffrey Payne in Stravinsky’s own arrangement for piano four hands. That concert at the Liberty Theater also features a live performance, conducted by Keith Clark, of Aaron Copland’s original small orchestra ballet score for “Appalachian Spring” – accompanying a filmed performance of the original ballet itself by Martha Graham’s company, which commissioned and premiered it in 1944. The festival’s closing weekend also features Friday and Sunday performances of one-act operas by Purcell (the gorgeous “Dido & Aeneas”) and Puccini (“Gianni Schicchi”) with Astoria’s apprentice opera artists and chamber orchestra, and a free Saturday afternoon chamber music concert of music by Liszt and Brahms, played by excellent instrumentalists from the Los Angeles Opera and Philharmonic orchestras.


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