Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some New Tidbits

Visiting my sadly neglected blog once again...although I'm working on some new developments that hopefully will allow me to focus a lot more time writing about music here, at NW Reverb and at Oregon Music News. Neither James nor I have been writing as much at the 'Verb since we started the OMN gig but as I said hopefully that will change soon.

That said, if anyone out there is still paying attention here are a couple of things:

1. Classical Revolution PDX
has incorporated as a non-profit and is seeking 50 adventurous souls to become Founding Revolutionaries by joining at a $10/month support level or donating $100 outright. This is a worthy cause and Mattie Kaiser and Co. have been hard at work for a long time now. Check it out, give it some thought, and any contribution large or small is welcome...

2. My friend Mel Downie Robinson, a fabulous soprano specializing in early music, is doing a recital at PSU with countertenor Tim Galloway, Doug Schneider on harpsichord and Michael Wilhite on theorbo and viola da gamba. I have heard all of these musicians perform before and they all know their stuff; this should be a great show. It's this Saturday at 8pm at Lincoln Hall on the PSU campus.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New stuff at Oregon Music News

Just a quick link to a couple of new articles up at Oregon Music News:

An interview with Bobby Ray of The Electric Opera Company
proved most enlightening! I'll be at their show with CRPDX at the Alberta Rose Theatre tomorrow night. I guarantee you won't have more of a blast anywhere in the 503 for 8 bucks on Friday.

I reviewed Hideki Yamaya's latest CD
: a recording of Roncalli's Capricci Armonici sopra la Chitarra Spagnola for baroque guitar. Hideki is one of my very favorite solo baroque stylists in a city that is absolutely crazy for early music, boasting many top-notch performers. Simply put, this CD is marvelous.

Click on the links above for the articles and further linkage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CRPDX and Electric Opera Company team up in 'Sympathy for the Devil'

Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX Present:
Sympathy for the Devil
A classically inspired rock concert at the Alberta Rose Theater

Portland’s favorite Electric Guitar Orchestra collides with the city’s
most accessible Chamber Ensemble to show you a side of classical music you’ve never even dreamed of, but will never want to leave behind…

PORTLAND — Alternative Classical Music. You could say they’re polar opposites. The guitarists of Electric Opera Company bringing their modern instruments into classical settings play the Ying to Classical
Revolution PDX’s Yang of chamber instrumentalists playing at bars and other comfortable settings. But this is a case where opposites
attract for a common goal: Making Classical Music more accessible to
the everyday listener!

Classical Revolution and Electric Opera Company will bring their
trademark stylings of 18th century masterworks to the Alberta Rose
Theater on August 19th for a concert that won’t soon be forgotten.
The theme is “Sympathy for the Devil” and there’s a heavy helping of
“Diablo in musica” in store including the Danse Macabre, selections
from Gounod’s Faust, Chopin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and
plenty more surprises. Bring your beer drinking fists and wear
whatever you want, its classical music for the 21st century!

Classical Revolution PDX in a Nutshell
Classical Revolution PDX offers chamber music performances in highly accessible venues, such as bars and cafes. By taking chamber music out of the recital hall and making it more accessible to an audience who does not otherwise hear such music in a live context, Classical Revolution strives to make the public aware that classical music is still relevant and can be enjoyed by all.

"Will the demise of appreciation for classical music be reversed by the Classical Revolution movement? Time will tell, it's transformational, it's unforgettable and every pair of ears that hears it is going to pass the word on. Now that's the stuff of revolutions alright." - Zaph Mann, OPB Music

Electric Opera Company in a Nutshell
Electric Opera Company is dedicated to revitalizing the popularity of
opera and classical music through education and performance; and to
breaking down the barriers to these arts by presenting them in a
modern, accessible medium. This accessible medium is the Fifteen
Piece Electric Guitar orchestra, in which musicians play the exact
parts as written by the composer. But the instruments typically
associated with classical music are replaced with an army of electric
guitars, keyboards, and drums.

The orchestra has been making waves around town as both a rock band teaching adults that classical music is way more awesome than they think it is, a company that produces fully staged operas, and an educational outreach group teaching kids basically the same thing. They’ve been spotted in opera houses, rock venues, middle schools, elementary schools, music festivals, non-profits, and more, spreading
the gospel of classical music to the unsuspecting.

Calendar Listing
What: Sympathy for the Devil, a concert featuring Electric Opera
Company and Classical Revolution PDX

Who: Produced by Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX.
Arranged by Bobby Ray and Adam Goodwin. Musical direction by

When/Where: Friday, August 19th, 8:00 pm – Minors OK when accompanied
by a parent or guardian
The Alberta Rose Theater 3000 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR (503) 719-6055

Why: To bring the joy of Classical Music to those who might not
experience it otherwise, and to share a new lens through which to view
a timeless favorite.

Tickets: $8 at the door or purchased online at

Mattie Kaiser
Executive Director | Classical Revolution PDX

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Filmusik and Federale rock the house with 'The Grand Duel'

Filmusik, Portland's homegrown musical idea whose name expresses exactly what it does, delivered another bang-up performance with the live-soundtrack rendition of 'The Grand Duel,' a spaghetti western of the best (worst?) kind Thursday night at the Hollywood Theater.

Federale, a local band who specializes in the dramatic music of the kind found in this genre, performed a live version of the soundtrack. The main theme is probably better known to most audiences from its appropriation by Quentin Tarantino for the soundtrack to 'Kill Bill Vol. 1.' The iconic harmonium melody, doubled at various times by soprano or trumpet, was accompanied by a perfect high lonesome whistle from one of the band members (and quite an excellent display of whistling prowess it was.) After all, what's spaghetti western music without the whistling?

The performance gave you everything you want from this genre, in which, let's face it, the music is much better than the film. And much more intense from being live and in your face. The film itself was a delicious, laughable bit of nonsense, full of hyperbole, melodrama, gratuitous nudity, stereotypes, and hatchet-faced Europeans with bad teeth somehow trying to pass themselves off as Americans, replete with oompa-loompa-cum-John-Boehner tans. Starring the iconic Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff out to save an innocent man from hanging and bent on revenge agains the cruel Patriarch, this film needed great music to save it from itself.

Federale betrayed a keen understanding of the musical needs of this genre, from gritty verismo atmospherics in which inglorious death is all around, to sinister carefully layered mood music, full of atonalism and sound-effects that also showcased the droning surf-rock origin behind much of the guitar work.

Another worthwhile endeavor from Galen Huckins and Filmusik, the final performance takes place tonight at 8 pm at the Hollywood Theater.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upcoming Filmusik Madness: The Grand Duel

Filmusik, the unique brainchild of Portland composer Galen Huckins that combines classic cinema with all manner of live performance elements, including live original soundtracks, voice dubbing and sound effects, is at it again this upcoming week with their new project The Grand Duel.

A spaghetti western starring the inimitable Lee Van Cleef, this film marks Filmusik's first collaboration with Federale, a local alternative band who just happens to specialize in writing and performing music that, in their own words, "recapture[s] the haunting, violent atmosphere illustrated in such classic films as A Fistful of Dollars." With their ranchero-style horns and the intensely powerful soprano of Maria Karlin, Federale, besides being an extremely talented ensemble that knows exactly how to achieve their musical goals, is a plain old-fashioned kick in the pants. Marvelously fun, Filmusik and Federale are a natural fit for each other, and for this enterprise Federale composed an entirely new soundtrack and will be on hand to perform for all three shows. The showings are Thursday July 28th, Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th at the Hollywood Theater at 8pm.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CD Review: Hideki Yamaya, 'The Mandolino in 18th- Century Italy'

Portland-based plucked strings expert Hideki Yamaya recently released a CD entitled The Mandolino in 18th-Century Italy, performing with lutenist John Schneiderman. The recording is of the Dalla Casa Manuscript, a mid-18th century compilation of mandolino music by amateur musician Filippo Dalla Casa.

The mandolino in this recording is very different from the modern mandolin; it is small and downright dainty, strung with nylon strings and plucked with fingers instead of a plectrum. The instrument has a delicate tone--the upper registers can be tinny and affect the pitch, which is off-putting at first but actually grows endearing as the music plays on, and the unique timbre becomes a joy to hear.

A peppery, virtuosic little sonata by Antonio Tinazzoli (1650-1730) opens the CD, barrelling forward in one whirlwind movement, showcasing the range of the instrument. The rest of the CD is very much in the galante style, with sonatas/concertos by Giuseppe Vaccari and Ludovico Fontanelli (1682-1748). Yamaya’s accurate and judicious ornamentation can’t be easy to effect on this feathery instrument. The compositions themselves are delightful, warm and fetching; Yamaya’s enthusiasm for playing these gems is obvious and infectious. His own variations on the menuet themes by an anonymous composer are virtuosic, and in one of these variations the mandolin switches to accompaniment and the lute takes the solo; other than that the lute is continuo throughout. The final Giga of the closing Vaccari concerto is particularly enjoyable, featuring surprising, modern-feeling syncopations.

This release is authentic and satisfying; samples of the work can be found here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

CD Review: 'Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass'

The innovative and exciting NYC string quartet Brooklyn Rider has a new CD from In a Circle Records in which the group records Philip Glass's entire string quartet oeuvre, which is the 5 numbered quartets plus the world premier recording of the Suite from "Bent" for String Quartet.

Brooklyn Rider, whose CD Dominant Curve was included in the Washington Post's list of top ten classical albums from 2010, was the right choice to premiere this important work. Bent, winner of the 1997 Cannes 'International Critics Award' tells the story of doomed relationships between gay men in Nazi Germany. The first of its 8 movements opens with a plaintive cello melody wending its way through a forest of suppurating strings, and one can feel the danger, the flight, the violence of the film. There are rays of hope in this work, however slim they may be. Brooklyn Rider understands how to perform this music from an intuitive, gut-level standpoint; one misplaced accent, one slightly shifted emphasis and the meaning of the whole structure is lost; the repetitive nature of Glass's motives both vertically and horizontally amplifies the importance of each little change, and without attention to every minute detail both technically and emotionally there will be nothing left. From the terrifying cello chords exploding from the smooth texture in the fourth movement to the forlorn wailing of the solo viola which is the only instrument heard in the final movement, the power of the composition shines through.

Some of the other quartets also come from film scores, including #3 which came from the 1983 film Mishima about the life of the quixotic Japanese author who committed seppuku in the early 70s. Very different in character from the Bent, there is less of the ceaseless in and out arpeggiation and more homophonic movement and stark chordal textures. String Quartet #1 was composed in 1966 but not first recorded until more than 20 years later. It is more experimental: its atonal warbling that at times veers toward a pizzicato almost completely lacking in pitch requires very different techniques of the group, and they render the ceaseless pulse with painful exactitude.

There is wondrous variety to be found in this release, each quartet with its own unique character, and Brooklyn Rider has the relentless energy required to sustain interest in the somber, often haunting sound world through which Glass's compositions wander. This release represents another big win from an unconventional and visionary group, and is an important contribution to both string quartet and Philip Glass discography.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

CD Review: 'L'Infidele' by Jon Mendle

Archguitarist Jon Mendle recently released his first CD, entitled L'Infidele after a lute sonata of the same name by the master baroque lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750). This release, from Brooklyn's In A Circle Records and produced by the great Sergio Assad, showcases Mendle's incredible artistry and deep musicianship through the interesting dichotomy of playing ancient music on an instrument invented only in 1980, by guitarist/lutenist Peter Blanchette.

The archguitar is an eleven-stringed instrument that looks rather like a mutant classical guitar. According to Mendle's website, "the Archguitar is a hybrid of the Renaissance and Baroque lutes, 19th century guitar, and modern guitar, making it ideal for a large cross section of early music, as well as certain modern and impressionist works."

On to the CD however; it contains Mendle's own transcriptions of the Weiss lute sonata as well as one by Adam Falckenhagen (1697-1761) and CPE Bach's Prussian Sonata V which was originally written for clavier.

The CD opens with the deep and weighty Largo at the head of the Falckenhagen sonata. In the subsequent Allegro un Poco Mendle's technique is revealed in the fantastic roulades and turns that he throws out in a manner sounding seamless and almost effortless, which is as it should be, the ornamentation feeling like a perfectly natural and unobtrusive outgrowth of the musical stuff from whence it came. The finale contains a mischievous recurring staccato theme that Mendle draws out insightfully and plays with obvious delight.

The CPE Bach is redolent with nascent classicism, and Mendle's playing makes the distinction between this style and the High Baroque of Weiss and Falckenhagen very clear. Again the fantastically difficult ornaments, this time in the middle Andante, are all realized smoothly and yet not monochromatically, alternately bold and delicate as called for. Throughout this CD the spectacular ornamentation is one commonality linking all of the compositions together; Mendle has a natural feel for it and isn't afraid to express himself through everything from filigreed and almost non-existent mordants to lengthy and substantive turns and doppelt-cadences. The Allegro Assai of this piece features voice-leadings taking off on various flights of fancy all their own.

The L'Infidele sonata, really a baroque dance suite, finishes out the CD. The Entree was exquisite, the Courante danceable and pulsing, and the Menuet featured terraced dynamics that yielded a fetching echo effect. Mendle explores a wide variety of tone colors in this suite; saucy mezzo-staccato phrases give way to sere, almost harsh plucking and muted, other-worldly legatos. The grumbling drone strings in the Musette present yet another delight to be savored.

If there were any flaw with this CD, it would only be that I wanted more after listening to it, and I immediately played it over from the beginning. Look for more great things to come from this brilliant young artist, who has already played with the likes of Yo Yo Ma and his teacher Sergio Assad.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opera Theater Oregon celebrates a new partnership with 'Sordid Lives'

OTO rolls out the red carpet at the Mission Theater on Friday, May 6 with a wild night of audience participation soap OPERA. 'Sordid Lives' borrows from '80s daytime television, tabloid journalism and the works of the great composers to create a truly demented, all-musical choose-your-own-story opera adventure.

When Wall Street banker Archibald Shackles casts off his scheming first wife Amber for a younger man/woman/man, Amber will stop at nothing to get her revenge: not even framing Archibald's new squeeze for impregnating their daughter. But did he/she/he do it? And if not...who did?

Two teams of opera singers and the OTO Technicolor Orchestra and Chorus battle it out at the audience’s command. Shrieking diva fights, hot, passionate clinches, evil twins, amnesia and intrigue abound! Special guest appearances by members of the Flash Choir and Electric Opera Company.

‘Sordid Lives’ is written by Pat Janowski (Livewire!), Katie Taylor (OTO Producing Artistic Director), John Dover (Alien Baby), and a host of helpless dead composers who will probably be writhing in their graves. Electric Opera Company takes the stage at 9:00pm. Imagine 12 shredding Angus Youngs playing Rossini and Wagner, only cuter, and you’ve got the picture.

‘Sordid Lives’ is a benefit and housewarming party for OTO at the Mission Theater, where the company is now resident. Audience members will be invited to bid for their plot choices and participate in a raffle for fabulous prizes, with all proceeds benefitting OTO’s expanded programming at the Mission. The event is the culmination of a $10,000 fundraising drive to raise funds to help the company develop new performance and educational programming. This event is dedicated to the McMenamin brothers, with thanks for taking OTO on as a resident company.


“McMenamins contacted us last year after our offer for the Guild Theatre fell through,” said OTO Producing Artistic Director Katie Taylor. “I can’t imagine a happier ending to that story!” OTO made headlines last summer for its lease offer on downtown’s Guild Theatre, dark since 2006 when the demolition of its restrooms put an end to NW Film Center’s residency there. The ambitious effort sparked the imaginations not just of film buffs and the Portland arts community, but of local architectural, engineering, construction and law firms who all offered pro bono services to bring the Guild back as a mid-sized live performance hall and retro movie house.

OTO’s effort was ultimately unsuccessful, but it attracted the interest of brew pub king Mike McMenamin, who read about it in The Oregonian. McMenamin asked Corporate Music Director Jimi Biron to contact Taylor, and after several meetings and conversations, they came up with a plan for OTO to use the Mission Theater as its home venue and office. The Mission also houses the Film, Music, and Event booking departments for McMenamins.

“We couldn’t be more delighted to have such a creative and progressive group as OTO share space with all of our event programmers,” Biron said. “We look forward, not only to some great performances in our venues, but to the energy and excitement that may be born of this creative brain trust.”

OTO’s plans for its residency at the Mission include a radio opera, movie musical sing-along nights with the planned OTO Community Choir, and the continuation of 'Sordid Lives' as a 12-episode online series.


OTO’s mission is to bring opera back into pop culture through creative editing and adaptation. Affordable, entertaining, and commonly available—online, in movie theaters, at bars, OTO helps more people connect with classical music in ways that feel relevant to peoples’ lives. OTO is resident at the Mission Theater.

WHAT: SORDID LIVES, A Choose Your Own Adventure Soap OPERA, featuring the Opera
Theater Oregon Technicolor Orchestra and Chorus. Special guests Electric Opera Company.

Benefit and housewarming for OTO’s new residency at The Mission Theater.
WHEN: Friday, May 6 - ONE NIGHT ONLY!
WHERE: The Mission Theater - 1624 NW Glisan St, Portland, OR 97209
WHO: Produced by Opera Theater Oregon
TICKETS: $15, on sale Friday, April 15:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

OMN Reviews

I had a chance to hear the Portland Youth Philharmonic for the first time last Saturday night...a very talented group of young players and I reviewed it here at Oregon Music News.

I'm reviewing the Portland Baroque Orchestra's St. John's Passion by J.S. Bach and that review should be up sometime this weekend.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I finally got to see Lang Lang live!

At long last, I got a chance to see Lang Lang, perhaps the world's most celebrated classical music mega-star, play live at the Schnitz on Thursday night. My review can be seen here at Oregon Music News.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reel Music Festival 2011 preview of 'The Turandot Project' up at OMN

At Oregon Music News I previewed a film that will be showing at the Reel Music Festival on Monday, January 10th at 7pm. For those of you who won't be glued to the TV watching the Ducks play for the national championship, 'The Turandot Project' should prove a worthwhile alternative. Zubin Mehta and Zhang Yimou give an intimate glimpse into the inner workings of an immense production of Puccini's Turandot in Beijing's Forbidden City.

Photo: Director Zhang Yimou. AP Photo.