Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming

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.

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Renée Fleming with Oregon Symphony
Sat Sept 10
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

This weekend, the Oregon Symphony kicks off its 120th Anniversary Season with an almost bigger bang than the cannon fire that accompanied their waterfront performance of the "1812 Overture" earlier this month. The fire and bombast comes by way of vocalist Renée Fleming, the American-born soprano who is one of the most celebrated vocalists around. She's become fixture of the world opera circuit, including her appearance last year in productions of The Merry Widow for the Metropolitan Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Fleming returns to Portland (she previously wowed concertgoers here in 2012) to lend her bold and sweeping vocals to a varied program that includes songs from The King and I and an aria from Oscar Straus's 1935 operetta Les Trois Valses. But the jewel of this opening night concert will surely be her performance of Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, a cycle that feels triumphal even though the lyrics look forward to the end of one's life.

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15th Annual Chamber Music on the Mountain
Sat Sept 10 & Sat Sept 24
Livingston Mountain, Camas, WA

Another momentous anniversary happening within the local classical music community is the 50th birthday of Camas, Washington label Crystal Records. Since 1966, this imprint has amassed an astounding catalog of releases with an emphasis on brass and woodwind ensembles, like the voluminous set of all 24 of Anton Reicha's Woodwind Quintets.

The man behind that label, Peter Christ, is also responsible for a series of concerts that take place every year on Livingston Mountain in Camas. This year, he's set two Saturdays aside with promised performances of Brahms and Bruch trios to be played by clarinet, cello, and piano on the 10th, and a program on the 24th featuring Paganini and Mozart as well as flute work recorded for film scores by featured artist Sheridan Stokes.

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Fêtes Galantes: A Baroque Celebration
Fri Sept 16
First Christian Church

This evening of music was organized, in part, to highlight the sound of the pardessus de viole, a tiny member of the viola family that was primarily played in 18th century France by upper-class women. It has been rescued from obscurity by players like Tina Chancey, who's visiting Portland on the 16th to lecture a bit about these antique instruments and perform works from the baroque period. The program includes what is being called the first "modern performance" of Antoine Forqueray's lilting and ornate bass viol suites using the pardessus de viol and harpischord.

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Portland Chamber Orchestra: The Spirit of Youth
Sat Sept 24 at Nordia House
Sun Sept 25 at Lewis & Clark College

Another local classical ensemble celebrating a birthday this year is the Portland Chamber Orchestra, which kicks off its 70th anniversary season this month. And the schedule they have lined up so far aims to bring a bit of childlike energy and modernist flair to their concerts. The first one on the docket is subtitled The Spirit of Youth, a program that uses the ebullient feelings of one's more innocent years as a springboard to explore music from a pair of Russian composers. The older of the two pieces—the whirling, jazzy Piano Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich—still sounds as spritely today as it must have when it premiered in 1933. On the other side of the coin is Grigory Frid's elegant ode to Anne Frank, which will be sung at both performances by Ani Maldjian, a young soprano who has made the role her own since 2007.

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Third Angle: Different Trains
Fri Sept 30 & Sat Oct 1
Oregon Rail Heritage Center

The Third Angle Ensemble is no stranger to the work of Steve Reich. They've been performing pieces written by the now-80-year-old composer frequently, including a jaw-dropping presentation of "Drumming" featuring members of So Percussion. To start off their new season, the group highlights Reich's string quartets with an emphasis on "Different Trains," a three-movement work composed in 1988 and inspired in part by the Holocaust Trains that transported Jews during World War II. The piece combines the chugging drive of strings with stray snippets of recorded dialogue that follow a similarly hypnotic rhythmic pattern. Rounding out the program on these two nights will be performances of Triple Quartet and WTC 9/11, Reich's elegy to the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.