Weekly MusicWatch: Snow falls, ‘Messiahs’ rise

Holiday music from Appalachia, Ireland, Byzantium, and Europe highlights Oregon's midwinter musical gifts

There’s almost as many holiday performances happening in Oregon as snowflakes fluttering down across the state, and the internet just isn’t big enough for us list them all here, so here’s a smattering of Oregon holiday musical happenings, most of which include more than the usual holiday fare. By all means feel free to list more recommended musical events, holiday themed or otherwise, in the comments section below. And given the wintry weather, be sure to check traffic and weather reports, as well as venue websites for last-minute cancellations. Update: we’ve removed a few listings because of weather-related cancellations and sell-outs, but you should still double check for later breaking news, as this post will not be updated through the weekend.

Viva’s Holiday: An Opera in One Act
December 14-17
Star Theater, 13 NW Sixth Ave. Portland.
Portland composer Christopher Corbell’s entertaining homegrown opera, based on the memoir of Portland writer/singer/stripper Viva Las Vegas, returns for its second run, featuring an all Oregon cast and a 12 member orchestra conducted by Opera Theater Oregon’s Erica Melton. Premieres tend to get all the attention in the classical music world, but the second and subsequent runs are almost as important for securing new music’s place in the repertoire and, in this case, in the heart of the community that spawned it.  Read our preview and review of last year’s premiere, and help turn this DIY made-in-Oregon production, set at a family Christmas party in which secrets are revealed and freedom of expression asserted, into a holiday tradition.

Magical Strings
December 14
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St. Portland.
For nearly four decades the Boulding family ensemble has performed its Celtic Yuletide show on Celtic harps, dulcimers, and more — just the ticket if you like your Christmas music with an Irish accent.

“An Appalachian Christmas”
December 14
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Legendary fiddler and composer Mark O’Connor returns with family band and Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives for his folky, rootsy Americana interpretations of holiday classics and more. Read Nancy Ives’s ArtsWatch feature.

BelloVoci performs at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo: Gary Norman.

December 14-15
Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland.
Matthew Hayward, Tim Suenkel and Norman Wilson sing classic and new three-part harmony arrangements of holiday standards.

Handel’s “Messiah,”  Portland Chamber Orchestra & Resonance Ensemble
December 16, All Saints Catholic Parish; December 17-18, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, Portland.
PCO gets as authentic as a modern instrument band can (if not exactly, as the PR insists, “as Handel intended”) by performing excerpts from Handel’s oratorio using a small orchestra and only three voices to a part — closer to what he envisioned than the massive choruses and full orchestras heard these days or in the 19th-20th centuries. (Handel himself led different performances over the years with variably sized forces.) The attractive program also includes one of J.S. Bach’s great orchestral suites and a wide range of sacred music ranging from the great Spanish Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria to 20th century French master Francis Poulenc to Latvian folk songs and traditional carols.

Oregon Mandolin Orchestra
December 16
Walters Arts Center, Hillsboro.
The fun annual show includes holiday favorites arranged for multiple mandolins, and this time, a country-swing opening set by OMO leader Brian Oberlin’s other band.

Riverside Chamber Symphony
Update: This concert has been postponed to Feb. 3
December 16
Wildish Theater, 630 Main St., Springfield.
Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview of the concert containing a premiere by rising Oregon composer Justin Ralls. The next night at the same venue, Swing Shift plays one of the liveliest marriages of classical music and jazz: Duke Ellington’s swinging arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet music, along with other holiday faves.

Weihnachtskonzert”: Trinity Music & Portland Baroque Orchestra
December 17
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave. Portland.
Trinity Cathedral’s annual Christmas concert and wassail party is always one of the season’s warmest musical events. This time, esteemed Indiana University early music scholar/singer/organist Dana Marsh leads the excellent church choir, sterling soloists (Portlanders soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo-soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, plus Seattle tenor David Hendrix and Philadelphia baritone Brian Chu) in one of JS Bach’s most popular cantatas, Now come, savior of the gentiles (Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland) and another Advent cantata 39 Raise yourself up joyfully (Schwingt freudig euch empor). They’ll also perform two motets by one of the composers Bach admired most, his older contemporary Dietrich Buxtehude.

David DeLyser leads Choral Arts Ensemble.

Welcome, Yule!”
December 17-18
Choral Arts Ensemble, Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Avenue, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the choir’s concert of contemporary songs celebrating the season, traditional carols and hymns, plus the title work by English composer Hubert Parry that sets an English Renaissance tune.

Eugene Sacred Harp Singers
December 18
Eugene Garden Club, 1645 High St. Eugene.
One of the most democratic musical traditions, shape note singing is fun, exuberant, requires no training, only enthusiasm and commitment. You don’t need to read standard musical notation; the pitches are indicated by shapes on paper. And this ancient tradition, which goes back to colonial American times and extends to groups around the country today, is all about participation, not passivity — a way to connect with our community through making music with each other. What better way to celebrate the spirit of the holidays than in this free annual holiday open sing-along?

In Mulieribus celebrates its tenth anniversary.

“Alleluya: A Nywe Werk”
In Mulieribus, December 18, St. James Catholic Church, 218 W 12th Street, Vancouver, WA, and December 20, St Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 NW Davis, Portland.
The sublime female vocal ensemble drawn from the top ranks of Portland choirs celebrates its 10th anniversary by singing some medieval and Renaissance favorites from past holiday concerts and music from a 12th century manuscript that was featured in its debut program,  chants by the great Hildegard of Bingen, and music from the Renaissance both sacred (polyphony by Josquin, Palestrina, and Morales) and country music carols.

Oregon Symphony
December 17-18
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
It’s a Wonderful Life (Dec. 17) has the orchestra playing the classic holiday film’s soundtrack by Dmitri Tiomkin live, while James Stewart faces the life that would have happened without him. Comfort and Joy: A Classical Christmas (Dec. 18) has most of the traditional favorites, along with light classical works and a closing audience participation singalong.

Michael Allen Harrison – Christmas at The Old Church
December 15-26
The Old Church, Portland.
The Portland pianist, composer, and philanthropist presents the 25th anniversary performance of one of the season’s most popular musical events for charitable causes, featuring long time cohort singer Julianne Johnson and other musical guest artists.

Annie Get Your Gun
December 16-18
Jaqua Concert Hall, The Shedd Institute, 868 High Street, Eugene.
Ah, the holidays, time for families and friends to get together and celebrate love and friendship and all those other virtues. So what’s the big family friendly musical onstage this season about? Why, guns, of course. Hey, this is America! Actually, when Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, loosely based on the real life Wild West Vaudeville show sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, opened 70 years ago, Americans had had plenty of experience with gun violence — that four-year unpleasantness of the history’s worst catastrophe, World War II and its associated horrors. The songs’ military metaphors — “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “My Defenses Are Down” — reflect the age-old battle of the sexes: the title character’s self-directed brassiness, evident in songs like “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” must have resonated with the Rosie the Riveters who’d had to take over so much homefront business while the men were fighting abroad. As must have Annie’s ultimate decision to defer to fragile male ego and pretend to be less competent than she really is. Otherwise, next thing you know, we’d have a woman running for President. Robert Ashens leads the band, Ron Daum directs, Caitlin Christopher choreographs, and Shirley Andress leads a cast of other Shedd regulars.

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
December 15-30
Portland Center Stage.
Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch’s review of this musical biography of the prototypical American songwriter, and David Schiff’s essay on his music.

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