Herein lies a new edition of Tone Roads, a column by Robert Ham, a regular contributor to the Mercury, highlighting the most interesting classical events happening in the Portland area each month.
Pianist Yenif Bronfman refers to Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 as a "monster," and according to writer Sadie Dingfelder, one piano teacher "compared the piece's physical demands to shoveling 10 tons of coal." A bit hyperbolic, yet there's some truth in their assessments as well. The piece does demand a lot of fleet-fingered action on the part of the performer, particularly during its final movement. But its true weight comes from the emotional and tonal shifts that require a player to exude both tenderness and bombast. French-Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin is more than up to that particular task. One of the most celebrated performers of recent years, he has been described as a "super virtuoso" and has received praise from critics and conductors the world over. This combination of performer and piece is such a momentous event that the Oregon Symphony is offering up three chances to experience it live.
The members of the Oregon Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra have obviously lived here long enough to know that it's about this time of year that the weather takes a turn for the wet and chilly. The program for the first concert of their 2016-17 season looks to the crisp temperatures and slower movements of Portland's citizens, as reflected in their choice of Erik Satie's calmly unfurling Gymnopedies (as orchestrated by Claude Debussy), Gabriel Faure's Masques et Bergamasques, Op. 112, and Two Pieces for Small Orchestra, one of Frederick Delius's most hopeful and beautiful creations.
The Michigan-based Akropolis Reed Quintet uses a delightfully unusual batch of instruments: alto sax, clarinet, oboe, bass clarinet, and bassoon. It's a broad range of timbres that allows them to tackle an equally large variety of classical music. At their upcoming Portland appearance they'll perform an adaptation of Jean-Phillippe Rameau's baroque beauty Le rappel des oiseaux and an arrangement of Gershwin's An American In Paris, alongside two modern pieces written specifically for the group by composers David Biedenbender and Marc Mellits.
Next month, a group of NW composers, including Art Resnick, Jennifer Wright, and Daniel Brugh will travel to Cuba for the first time as part of the Festival de la Habana and will hear their music performed by musicians from the island nation. (A group of Cuban composers will, in return, be visiting Portland next May.) It's an exciting opportunity that the Cascadia Composers will celebrate in this preview performance, which will also hopefully generate some much-needed funds to pay for their airfare and travel expenses.
For the past 15 years, the Sunnyside Symphony has been growing in reputation and stature among classical music lovers in Portland. The all-volunteer ensemble is garnering attention for their fine programs and for making their events free of charge in hopes of bringing in folks who might otherwise avoid such concerts. The orchestra is kicking off their new season with scheduled performances of Jean Sibelius's elegant and bold Symphony No. 5 and 2nd Essay for Orchestra, op. 17, a single-movement work by Samuel Barber that takes exponential leaps in complexity and intensity as it moves forward.
Matt Hannafin's quarterly series of modern classical returns for its fall installment with another striking program that brings together both composed and improvised work. A highlight of this event will surely be the world premiere of semaphore, a new piece by East Coast performer and composer Audra Wolowiec that blends original poetry and some raw vocal sounds to be performed by CHOIR, a group led by Jesse Mejía. Also on tap is an all-electronic work built from field recordings captured along the Columbia River as performed by Derek Ecklund and three drops of rain/east wind/ocean, a duo work by Antoine Beuger that will be brought to life by guitarist Doug Theriault and his wife Pauline on piano.
A percussion-heavy evening awaits, thanks to an appearance by Scottish musician Colin Currie, who is currently in his second year as the Oregon Symphony's artist-in-residence. To commemorate the occasion, the orchestra and performer will join forces to present the West Coast premiere of composer Andrew Norman's fascinating concerto Switch, which evokes the feeling of channel-surfing as the various instruments in the symphony are "triggered" by the percussion sounds. That work is sandwiched between two symphony-only performances of Richard Strauss's self-referential tone poem Ein Heldenleben and another contemporary work: Andrew Rouse's single-movement Supplica.