Emerson String Quartet
Emerson String Quartet Lisa Mazzucco

Today on Blogtown, we introduce Tone Roads, a new column by Robert Ham, a regular contributor to the Mercury, highlighting the most interesting classical events happening in the Portland area each month.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival

Chamber Music Northwest's annual celebration of classical music has long welcomed an impressive array of performers and sounds to venues throughout the region, but this current run of shows could prove to be their most far-reaching and striking yet. Though it has been going on since the end of June, there's still a lot of great shows on the docket, covering both modern work and more canonical fare. Going through each one would take up the entirety of this inaugural column, so here are three performances that you shouldn't miss.

New@Noon: Martin Bresnick & Richard Danielpour (July 15 at noon, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University)

Toplining the program for this midday performance is the world premiere of Richard Danielpour's The Last Jew In Hamadan and the West Coast premiere of And I Always Thought, a fascinating trio written by Martin Bresnick and based on two poems by Bertolt Brecht. But snuck into the mix is Charles Wuorinen's Cello Variations III, a thrilling piece for solo cello that intertwines sweeping lyrical fragments with quick sputters and scratches. It was written by the composer for the 50th birthday of cellist Fred Sperry, who will be on hand to perform the piece at this event.

Emerson String Quartet (July 15 - 17 at 8 pm, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College)

The subtitle for these three performances by this NYC-based string ensemble is Passing The Torch, which is shorthand for their interest in the days when Beethoven was a student of Joseph Haydn. Even at the time this meeting of two musical giants was a big deal, though it wasn't a successful one. The elder composer dismissed much of his pupil's work, and the younger quietly sought out the assistance of other teachers. Still, the impact is still apparent today with Beethoven absorbing and quickly surpassing Haydn. These three evenings will explore the parallels between the men, with the group playing two pieces by each composer (with a different program every night) to help us better see how this musical evolution played out.

New@Noon: Multimedia Music (July 22 @ noon, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University)

The festival goes very modern for this noontime concert, with three pieces that use current technology and film to augment and accompany the music on hand. To that end, you'll get a chance to hear excerpts of the score that composer Bruce Adolphe wrote for the documentary Einstein's Light while watching pieces of the film. And you'll get to witness a performance of Surrender me endless, an electroacoustic piece composed and performed by PSU instructor Bonnie Miksch that uses the poetry of Zayra Yves as its text and multi-tracked backing vocals triggered by an iPad.

Creative Music Guild's Extradition Series - Summer Concert (July 23 at Leaven Community Center)

This new Creative Music Guild venture is really the brainchild of percussionist Matt Hannafin, which, according to him, will focus "on composed and improvised New Music and works from the 20th century experimental tradition." He helped kick off this series this past January with a taut and electric performance of John Cage's Zen garden-inspired Ryoanji and continued in April with a program that included a pair of Christian Wolff pieces and an improvisation from modular synth master Matt Carlson.

The program for this season's event focuses on newer works, like Mark Hannesson's "Hoarfrost," a 2004 piece that encourages a performer (in this case, bass clarinet player Jonathan Sielaff) to play quiet tones that they will then "freeze" using a loop pedal as they see fit, and a piece by Seattle-based composer Robert Kirkpatrick from his Book of Musical Shapes, a Cagean visual score that asks performers (here, Hannafin and trombonist Evan Spacht) to interpret shapes into sound.

The headlining performance will be of James Tenney's 1967 "Swell Piece." Part of the composer's 10 Postal Pieces, named because he often wrote them out on postcards, it asks an ensemble to play long tones, at first soft and then gathering in volume and intensity. The effect, Tenney says, will ensure that the audience "can almost determine what’s going to happen the whole rest of the time. When they know that’s the case, they don’t have to worry about it anymore. They . . . can begin to really listen to the sounds, get inside them, notice the details, and consider or meditate on the overall shape of the piece, simple as it may be.” This will be interpreted by a six-piece wind ensemble made up of Sielaff, Spacht, Blue Cranes member Joe Cunningham, alto sax player John C. Savage, trombonist Christian Pincock, and baritone saxophonist Andy Rayborn.

Abbey Bach Festival (July 27 - 29 at Mt. Angel Abbey)

This year marks the 45th anniversary of this annual event, which brings classical music to the rather stunning grounds of the Mt. Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon. And while the emphasis is on the work of Bach, the weekend affair does delve into other musical corners. On hand will be Les Boréades des Montreal, a quartet that plays early classical work on period instruments, to perform Bach's Trio Sonatas on Thursday evening, and Alon Goldstein, the Israeli-born pianist who will be there on Wednesday with a program that includes a suite of Debussy pieces and Franz Liszt's rendition of the heartbreaking final moments from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to experience the sounds of the pipe organ in the Abbey Church on Wednesday when Marcia Hauff will perform Bach's "Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor" and the stately and enthralling "Suite Médiévale" of French composer Jean Langlais.