ArtsWatch Weekly: Sugar plums & what music means

Hip-hop haven, profiles in gender, museum Loverules, a new opera, un-holiday tunes, gibassiers & more.


MUSIC MAY BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, AS SHAKESPEARE’S DUKE ORSINO proclaimed in Twelfth Night, but it is also the food of thought, feeling, action, and belief. Music can take you into deep waters and guide you to unexpected shores. What is the connection between sound and the greater world? ArtsWatch’s Matthew Neil Andrews found himself so immersed in the mysteries a while back that he decided to dive in even farther, looking for answers, or at least for even deeper questions.

“Several questions haunted this journalist’s mind during a series of fall concerts put on by three of Portland’s most excellent classical groups: Fear No Music, Resonance Ensemble, and Third Angle New Music,” Andrews wrote. “The music was all good, but was often upstaged by the concerts’ messages and the questions they raised.”

Third Angle New Music’s artistic director and flutist Sarah Tiedemann, Back in the Groove at the Jack London Revue. Photo: Kenton Waltz 

How, in these contemporary and sometimes politically engaged performances, did the music and the messages mix? In a three-part series, Andrews stretched his readers’, and his own, imaginations:

  • THE MEANINGS OF MUSIC, PART ONE: METABOLIZING TRAUMA. Fear No Music’s concert Hearings consisted of newly commissioned works for strings, winds, percussion, and singers in which the ensemble asked composers to create “music which draws on the watershed moment of the 2018 Kavanaugh Senate Confirmation Hearings as inspiration.” Pre-show publicity generated such hostility and threats that the concert, at The Old Church, was performed behind locked doors, with a uniformed security guard standing watch.
  • THE MEANINGS OF MUSIC, PART TWO: MINDING THE BEAUTY. On a “pleasant October afternoon” at Cerimon House, Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon “looked around her band of singers, lifted her hand, and dropped it: and suddenly we were bathed in a bizarre nonsense chord, a shocking flash of sound-color. … Over the course of five minutes that felt like five wonderful hours, the singers creeped around gradually shifting long tones while a groovy psychedelic sci-fi mandala rotated on the screen above the stage.” 
  • THE MEANINGS OF MUSIC, PART THREE: COMMUNITY GROOVES. Taking her flute out of the concert hall and onto the nightclub stage of the Jack London Revue, Third Angle New Music’s Sarah Tiedemann adeptly obliterated the border between “classical” and “popular” music. She “went into a little rap about (Jethro) Tull’s Ian Anderson, something of a maverick hero to flutists who admire his wild, chaotic energy and his contributions to discovering, inventing, and road-testing a toolkit of useful extended flute techniques. … She then proceeded to shoelessly stun the audience into silence with an angular, effects-laden, transparently difficult, insane flurry of strangely melodic modern flute music. … Such is the joy of crossing the streams.” 


Swiggle Mandela at his store and art space, Shop La Familia & the Coop, in North Portland. Photo: Christen McCurdy

“IT TAKES SOME EFFORT TO FIND SHOP LA FAMILIA,” Christen McCurdy writes in Spaces: At Shop La Familia, hip hop digs in. “… From the street, the spot looks like a row of quiet office buildings occupied mostly by union locals. But if you walk to the back of the building to the nondescript gravel parking lot, through propped-open industrial doors and head down the stairs, you’ll find what local rapper Swiggle Mandela has planted underground.” What he’s built is “a retail space, an erstwhile music venue and a community space for a loose collective of artists connected with Portland’s hip-hop scene. In a city where rapidly escalating real estate prices have put a squeeze on cultural spaces in Portland, La Familia is creating a space of its own, in a historically black, but rapidly gentrifying part of town.” McCurdy’s report is part of The Art of Space, an occasional ArtsWatch series looking at the ways the city’s artists and arts groups deal with the tightening real-estate market.


Hank Willis Thomas, Loverules, 2019. Neon. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer. © Hank Willis Thomas, photo courtesy Portland Art Museum

MAYBE YOU’VE SEEN IT, DOWNTOWN, DOMINATING THE ENTRANCE to the Portland Art Museum: The giant neon sign proclaiming boldly that LOVERULES. There are, as Laurel Reed Pavic points out in her expansive essa on the artist Hank Willis Thomas’s ambitious retrospective show All Things Being Equal …, several ways of reading it. “Thomas is a photographer and conceptual artist whose work explores race, the language of advertising, and the power of images to shape culture and historical narrative,” she writes. “… Race is a fiction, but that fiction has been propagated and circulated and layered upon in events and memories in this country for so long that it is a reality. Thomas’s work asks us to consider the mechanisms that conspired to make race so we can better understand how to unmake it in the future.”

  • APPRECIATING THE PAST, SHOWING UP FOR THE PRESENT. Martha Daghlian’s December tips on what to see in the galleries and museums ranges from memorial exhibits at Russo Lee for artists Jan Reaves and Judith Poxson Fawkes to inventing the future at Springfield’s Ditch Projects, the Nat Turner Project at Ori, and “little things” at Guardino.
Paul Shortt, Loiter Here, in the exhibition On the Tip of My Tongue at Carnation Contemporary in North Portland. Photo courtesy the gallery



King Whitman (left) and Kristina McArthur. Photos: Dee Moore

“IT ALL STARTED WHEN I WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD AND SCREAMING that I was a boy and begging to be allowed to go to the boys’ bathroom at a posh restaurant,” photographer Dee Moore begins. In her photo essay Photo First: Profiles in Gender, Moore tells the stories of ten artists (including herself) who are outside the binary norm.


Jessica Lind and Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers as snow in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2017 production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®. Photo: Yi Yin

GATHER THE CHILDREN AND BUNDLE THEM UP FOR A TRIP DOWNTOWN: It’s Nutcracker time again. Oregon Ballet Theatre’s annual production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker opens Saturday in Keller Auditorium and continues through the day after Christmas. Find details in Jamuna Chiarini’s December DanceWatch Monthly, along with news of several other dance offerings in the coming week, from Bharathanaityam Indian dance to new vocal and interdisciplinary works at Performance Works NW and more. 



Sara Siestreem: a move to the High Desert Museum. Photo: Aaron Johanson 

A NEW CHALLENGE HAS DRAWN ONE OF OREGON’S FINEST CONTEMPORARY artists to Central Oregon: This week the High Desert Museum in Bend announced that Sara Siestreem, the prominent Hanis Coos artist who creates boldly contemporary work as well as helping to keep traditional forms alive, is the Central Oregon museum’s new curator of art and community engagement, a welcome hiring that will further strengthen the museum’s commitment to exploring art in addition to its cultural and natural-history roots. Among Siestreem’s charges: building art opportunities for underserved public schools. Read more about Sistreem’s approach to giving and making in Laura Grimes’s recent ArtsWatch story The art of giving, large and small.


It’s not all tinsel on Seattle stages this month. Carrie Campere stars as gospel star and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Shout Sister Shout! at Seattle Rep. Photo: Bronwen Houck

THE GREAT GOSPEL STAR SISTER ROSETTA THARPE, whose rough-and-tumble singing voice and slashing guitar helped pave the way for rock ‘n’ roll, is the big attraction in Seattle in the new musical Shout Sister Shout!Misha Berson writes in her Letter from Seattle: Holiday Edition. Also onstage in the Emerald City: a new, Broadway-bound musical adaptation of the movie hit Mrs. Doubtfire; the cozy-wacky comedy Head Over Heels, which premiered a few seasons back at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and (of course) a Seattle slew of holiday shows.


Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon


The Brooklyn trio Moon Hooch, shown in an exhibit by Justin Hautbois, plays two December shows at Doug Fir. Photo courtesy of the band.

ARE THOSE JINGLE BELLS INTRUDING ON OUR MUSICAL MIX? Casting his eye on the near future after those deep dives into the meanings of music, Matthew Neil Andrews scouts out the welcome sound of concerts that AREN’T holiday music – and, all right, a couple that are, because you really ought to know about them. “We’ve got a good dozen or two non-holiday themed concerts for you: abstract string quartets, killer guitarists and groovy saxophonists, and a visit from Oregon Symphony’s newly appointed Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane,” Andrews writes. 

  • A GAME OF REFLECTIONS. Angela Allen reviews Mirror Game, PSU Opera’s premiere of a new chamber opera by composer Celka Ojakanagas and librettist Amy Punt, Set in Silicon Valley and focusing on women in the male-dominated tech world, it “bursts with video graphics and complex projections and lighting that reflect the gaming world. This is an all-hands-on-deck piece by the PSU Opera crew, which consistently creates shows that far outreach most student operas.”


The glorious gibassier: Thanks for the memories.

A SMALL CATASTROPHE STRUCK THE BOOKS-AND-GALLERY DISTRICT of Northwest Portland just after Thanksgiving with the word that the Pearl Bakery, after 23 years of creating high-quality breads and pastries and providing a hangout for artists, visitors to the nearby Powell’s City of Books, and countless other Oregonians, was shutting down. We sing a song of farewell and mourn the loss of one special item in particula: “Among many other things, the Pearl was beloved as one of the rare American homes of the gibassier, an irresistible three-fingered puff of pastry, just the right balance between sturdy and light, that is redolent of anise and orange and inevitably spins off a powdering of fine sugar on whatever you happen to be wearing.” Hail and farewell, Pearl. We’ll miss you deeply.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon
Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon
Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Portland Baroque Orchestra Harmony of Nations Concert First Baptist Church Kaul Auditorium Reed College Portland Oregon
Newport Visual and Performing Arts Newport Oregon Coast
Kalakendra Indian Classical Instrumental Music First Congregational Church Portland Oregon
NW Dance Project Moving Stories Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Triangle Productions Perfect Arrangement Portland Oregon
Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon
Oregon Repertory Singers Finding Light 50th Season Portland Oregon
Imago Theatre Carol Triffle Mission Gibbons Portland Oregon
Maryhill Museum of Art Goldendale Washington
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Bonnie Bronson 2024 Fellow Wendy Red Star Reed College Reception Kaul Auditorium Foyer Portland Oregon
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