MusicWatch: The examined life

YOB is love; Eugene versus Corvallis; Renegade Opera and PSU Opera; twangy Indian music; and the one true “Messiah.”

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If you only know one Oregon metal band, it needs to be YOB. The Eugene trio has been around forever, they’ve essentially started over twice, their albums are incredible, and their whole vibe and sound are as distinctly Oregonian as a Doug Fir getting struck by lightning on a cloudy December afternoon.

They don’t perform live as often as they used to (owing, no doubt, to singer/guitarist/founder Mike Scheidt’s illness)–so it’s doubly significant that they’re playing two hometown shows in Eugene, early in December. One of them, at John Henry’s on the 9th, has already sold out, so if you want to go soak up the majesty in person at WOW Hall on the 8th, you’d better hurry. Here’s how one fan (Forrest James, writing for Treble) describes the experience:

I didn’t fully understand Yob until I saw them live, and even then perhaps only after the second time. Or rather, there is a whole half of Yob that is illuminated by their live performances, by their longtime fans, and by Mike Scheidt’s understated charisma. The first time was at Pickathon 2019, and given the setting I expected at least one of their sets to be stripped down or more intimate in some way. What I got instead was my first Pickathon mosh pit. At the time I didn’t even know they could rip so hard. The second time I had the privilege to see Yob was well after their tour in support of Our Raw Heart. There was no agenda, no script—it was just Yob playing whatever they wanted, which meant a shocking number of their longest, slowest and most beautiful songs, ones they probably didn’t feel inclined to play often, certainly not for festivals full of people who may or not know them. But in that room, it was magic. A couple knowing people spontaneously yelled “Yob is love!” either prompting or answering Mike Scheidt’s praying hands. More than a few cried. Almost everyone, whether they knew the song or not, swayed in time together like one universal being. That’s Yob.

But worry not: if you miss out on the live shows, there’s always good old vinyl. The three albums that best represent YOB’s various turnings–2002’s debut Elaborations of Carbon, 2009’s post-breakup-and-reformation The Great Cessation, and 2018’s absolutely stunning post-recovery Our Raw Heart–they’re all available in gorgeous multi-colored double-LP vinyl pressings. Get em while they’re hot:

Love and war

Also in Eugene but closer in time–this Thursday, November 16 (tonight, if you’re reading this on Thursday, November 16)–the Eugene Symphony under the baton of Francesco Lecce-Chong continues its act-by-act exploration of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Wagner’s massive Ring Cycle somewhat overshadows his other work, but standalone operas like Tännhauser, Parsifal, and Tristan und Isolde contain some of his best and best-known music–not least this opera’s infamous opening music and its gnarly “Tristan chord” (the bane of many a second-year music theory student) and the equally infamous closing “Liebestod” (inspiration for a century of film scores).

It’s a bizarre choice, splitting up an opera like this, but it’s oddly appropriate in this particular case–because Tristan und Isolde is the closest Western classical music has ever come to producing something truly tantric (second place goes to Beethoven for his orgasmic Ninth Symphony, but consider also J.S. Bach and his two wives and twenty children). The opera opens with desperate, irresolute longing; it ends with (spoiler alert) sexual release in the form of everybody dying. Spreading it out across three seasons like this can only serve to heighten the sweet agony.

Eugene Symphony kicked this thing off in their 2021-22 season, did Act II last year, and will finish it off with Act III this weekend. More information and tickets right here.

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Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Ludwig and Malwine Schnorr von Carolsfeld in the title roles of the original production of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" in 1865. Photo by Josef Albert.
Ludwig and Malwine Schnorr von Carolsfeld in the title roles of the original production of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” in 1865. Photo by Josef Albert.

Over on the exact opposite end of the classical spectrum–and across the “Oregon Civil War” border (the game’s back on, sports fans)–is the Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by PYP music director David Hattner in a perfect sampling of French music this Sunday, November 19, centered around the second suite from Ravel’s lovely Daphnis et Chloé, which is Tristan und Isolde’s mirror image in nearly every way. The cyclical and chromatic nature of César Franck’s 1888 Symphony in D minor is decidedly and deliberately Wagnerian in nature without sacrificing any of its light, Gallic charm–which contributed both to its chilly initial reception within France and its enthusiastic popularity everywhere else. The three-movement Femmes de légende of Franck’s student Mel Bonis rounds out the program, and you can read more about that one in James Bash’s review of the Oregon Symphony’s performance of the piece early this year under the baton of Deanna Tham.

Thinking ahead again to December, we’d be remiss if we didn’t call your attention to another OSU concert: Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms on December 7. If you only ever hear one Lenny composition besides West Side Story, it needs to be this one. More information and tickets for both concerts are available here.

The examined life is worth living

This weekend, Renegade Opera presents its “Artists In Conversation Festival,” consisting of two separate programs: “She Loves You Back” and “American Patriots.”

The first–a staged collection of art songs directed by the badass Portland actor-director Joellen Sweeney and performed by mezzo-soprano Claire Robertson-Preis, soprano Emily Way, and pianist Jesse Preis–is a feminist take on climate change, with works by Ashi Day (“For Whom The Dog Tolls”), Shruthi Rajasekar (“The Letter”), Clara Schumann’s husband Robert (Frauenliebe und Leben), and two by Oregon’s favorite micro-opera composer Lisa Neher (excerpts from No One Saves the Earth from Us But Us and Sonnet at the Edge of the Reef).

The second is the brainchild of Michigan mezzo-activist Samantha Rose Williams. “American Patriots” brings together new work by four composers: Regina Harris Baiocchi, Gala Flagello, Renegade co-founder Danielle Jagelski, and Yaniv Segal (who also serves as the theatrical song cycle’s musical director). The show’s website describes the endeavor as:

a theatrical song-cycle that captures the contemporary American zeitgeist from four vastly different perspectives: African-American, Native American, New American, and white Working-Class American. The show asks us to actively examine the way we think about race, class, and who this country is for; and to gain perspective into the lives of other Americans we may not have previously identified with.

Featuring newly commissioned songs (texts taken from contemporary interviews of 40 Americans from across the Nation), American Patriots takes an unflinching look at the lived reality of American Ideals today. The composers’ unique styles create a dynamic auditory experience that reflects the diversity of this country: at times classical, jazzy, Broadway, funny, serious, and alarming, but always engaging and unexpected.

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Touring in both a recital and chamber opera format, the minimalist production uses innovative staging, immersive aural design, and visual projections by local videographers to center an “intentional storytelling” process. The socially relevant content and representation of perspectives across disparate racial and socio-economic lines appeal to today’s audiences: a broad base of critical thinkers, activists, and adventurous consumers.

The complete festival runs twice, on November 18 & 19, at the Historic Alberta House. Note that the order of programs is reversed from one day to the next: “She Loves You Back” on Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, “American Patriots” on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. More information and tickets are available here.

At Portland State University, for four performances November 25 through December 3, PSU Opera presents the Northwest premiere of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of  the Fallen Giant. As the title suggests, the opera (music by Evan Meier, libretto by Oregon playwright E.M. Lewis, commissioned in 2015 by American Lyric Theater) is a Fractured Fairy Tales style mashup–the timeless detective and his stalwart pal are called in to investigate the events of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Absurd, perhaps, but it sure sounds like a good time. Here’s what the librettist has to say about the opera’s deeper meanings:

We live in a mad, mad world — a cacophony of technology, a confusion of ideas, a polarity of politics. It’s overwhelming for adults; how much more overwhelming must it be for young people? Children’s literature, for the page and for the stage, has always had the power to help kids navigate their world. It helps them find their own moral compass, empathize with others, and figure out what they want to be.

In our opera, the setting is Victorian and Magical — but the challenges that our young protagonist faces are timeless challenges. Who do you go to for help when you’re in trouble?  What happens when the police are prejudiced against you? Are there tools that can help you navigate the confusing world, make sense of things? In Sherlock Holmes, young Jack Bale finds a friend and mentor who sees him objectively, for who he is.  He finds someone whose worldview can shift when necessary, because he seeks truth, and bases his decisions on facts, not prejudices. He comes to understand that there can be complexity in the world — logic and magic don’t have to be an either/or proposition, there’s room for both. We hope that these themes will resonate with young audience members, while they enjoy the fun adventure story and the beautiful music.

Two approaches to the music of India

Of all the various permutations of “East meets West” cross-pollinations, perhaps none has been more fruitful than the meeting point of Indian classical music and American roots music. For instance, when Indian musicians play the violin it often sounds more like “fiddle music” than Mozart. We mean that, of course, as a compliment–we mean it has a rhythmic vitality and a folkishness generally missing from what we think of as “classical” music. And when Indian musicians play instruments that Western ears think of as explicitly American–slide guitar, say, or mandolin–we’re apt to hear a deep connection between the Ganges River Valley and the Appalachian Mountains. Strikingly, the banjo and sitar even have a structural element in common: the sitar’s high droning chakiri strings are directly reflected in the five-string banjo’s open G (inherited, naturally, from the African akonting).

In the case of the mandolin, it’s largely associated with one particular player: U. Srinivas, a child prodigy whom many Westerners will have most likely heard performing with blues guitarist John McLaughlin in the reformed Shakti. Other Indian classical mandolinists have followed, and one of them–Gagandeep Singh, with tabla player Rajvinder Singh–performs this Friday, November 17 (tomorrow night if you’re reading this on Thursday, November 16), at First Baptist Church in Portland. This is yet another concert presented by the long-running, well-loved Oregon arts organization Kalakendra (and sponsored in part by Association of Seniors of Indian Origin). More information and tickets are available on Kalakendra’s site.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

On the 20th at The Shedd in Eugene and again on the 21st at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, a supergroup comes to Oregon: Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, and Rakesh Chaurasia. Fleck (banjo) and Meyer (upright bass) both come from that Americana roots tradition, and are well regarded as masters and expanders of not only that tradition but classical and world music and plenty more besides. They’re virtuosos on their instruments, fine composers, terrific collaborators, and probably really nice guys too.

Same goes for Hussain (tabla) and Chaurasia (flute). We spoke with these fellas back in 2018 (read that here), and here’s what these two masters had to say about the art of listening:

Zakir Hussain: Listening is one aspect, but watching the musicians is very important. When you see the body language of an artist it gives you an insight into what might transpire, if you watch closely. Like in a conversation, people are talking to each other, someone will look up into the sky, those ‘what is this guy saying’ gestures tell you what’s going on.

That’s why it’s very important for an apprentice to go to as many concerts as possible, or sit in the wings and watch, especially with improvised music. You watch the eye contact, the nods, leaning in and stressing a certain chord or beat, calling attention to what needs to happen. Those are body language scenarios that one must focus on. If you just close your eyes and listen to the music you’ll have one experience, but if you watch the musicians and see how they play, it becomes an audio-visual experience that draws your attention to the source where the music is made, a shape and a form which the audience is finally looking at.

Rakesh Chaurasia: There’s no manual that teaches you this music. I think the main thing for such audiences is to keep coming to live performances to get a feel of it. The music has to connect to your mind, body, and soul. There are a lot of people who come to classical concerts for the first time but get hooked onto it. That’s because the music has connected with your soul. A lot of people meditate or do yoga listening to instrumental music; that’s because it gives you peace, you feel relaxed, the sound is soothing and appealing. So the basic point is: music is interlinked with our chakras so somewhere it will appeal to you.

The quartet is touring their Grammy-nominated album As We Speak (the album as a whole and two songs therefrom, “Pashto” and “Motion,” were recently nominated). You get a foretaste of the music right here:

The one true Messiah

We close with another December concert, and it’s a big one. You’ll probably have plenty of opportunities to hear Handel’s evergreen Messiah oratorio, this holiday season and every winter thereafter until the final trumpet. But if you only hear one Messiah, this one should be the one.

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Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

For starters, it’s Portland Baroque Orchestra, and they’re playing the whole thing, and they’re doing it on period instruments. Guest conductor John Butt, a world-renowned expert in Baroque music and historically informed performance, will lead the whole thing from the harpsichord. The vocal soloists include three guests–soprano Camille Ortiz, tenor James Reese, and bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca–alongside Oregon State Treasure, mezzo Hannah Penn.

The chorus is none other than Oregon’s own Cappella Romana, one of the finest choirs in the world and tremendously deft at performing chewy old music like this. Handel almost constitutes “new music” for this crew, who have a tendency to bounce between Arvo Pärt, Robert Kyr, Hildegard de Bingen, Kassianí, and Byzantine music so old it doesn’t have composer names attached, all of it with a deep appreciation of spirituality and acoustics, almost like they live in a world outside of time.

We’re telling you about this one early, dear reader, so that you can plan accordingly. Get your tickets now–performances are at 7 pm on Friday and Saturday, December 8 & 9, and at 3 pm on Sunday, December 10, all at First Baptist Church. Hire a babysitter or a petsitter or a housesitter if you need one. Book a hotel if you’re coming from outside of Portland. Book a bus ride or a flight if you must. Have a nice hearty meal, hydrate and take a walk, perhaps do a little yoga, get yourself into a spiritual frame of mind (doing whatever pagan mental adjustments you might require in order to fully and honestly appreciate a very, very Christian choral work).

And then brace yourself.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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One Response

  1. Speaking of Wagner’s “Liebestod,” dial up the film “Aria (1987)” which sets 10 short opera scenes by 10 different directors in manners both ghastly & great.

    The Wagnerian wallow features a young Bridget Fonda (OMG) as Isolde expiring alongside her dear Tristan in a cheap Las Vegas hotel room.

    D-Bob sez, check it out!

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
Portland State University College of the Arts
Bonnie Bronson 2024 Fellow Wendy Red Star Reed College Reception Kaul Auditorium Foyer Portland Oregon
PassinArt Theatre and Portland Playhouse present Yohen Brunish Theatre Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
High Desert Museum Sasquatch Central Oregon
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