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.
As they did last season with their Mind of Evan program that put the spotlight on Evan Kuhlmann, bassoonist for the Oregon Symphony, the contemporary classical ensemble Third Angle New Music is putting another of their regular performers at center stage for a solo concert. This time around, it is pianist Susan DeWitt Smith. The Portland native and Lewis & Clark professor also plays with the Oregon Symphony when she's not bouncing around the globe for gigs. For this performance, Smith will be highlighting some recent work by a trio of modern composers, including Bang on A Can leader David Lang's multi-layered eight movement Memory Pieces, which pays tribute to the lives of important figures in modern music like John Cage and Yvar Mikhashoff, and How Can I Live In Your World Of Ideas?, a piece by composer Timo Andres that bounces and slinks and leaps like a kitten.
The Crazy Jane Composers is a consortium that seeks to redress the imbalance of most classical events that usually only feature works written by men. They do so by providing a platform for new female composers based here in the Northwest. Tonight's event is a multidisciplinary affair featuring modern dance, some storytelling, and live performances of new and recent works by Marylhurst Symphony cellist Elizabeth Blachly-Dyson, sound artist Susan Alexjander, and Cascadia Composers president Jan Mittelstaedt.
For their fall concert, the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra is aiming to help bring opera down to earth a bit. Their upcoming performances of Gioachino Rossini's comic masterpiece The Barber of Seville will be free of sets and costumes and will include a narrator who will explain the action of the two-act work as it unfolds. Even without those additions, or the English translations of the Italian lyrics that will be projected along with the performance, the opera is still a delight as it follows the efforts of the lovelorn Count Almaviva to woo the ingenious Rosina, with some assistance from the titular barber. Rossini's music responds to the beats of the action with bright, lively passages that allow the actors onstage to get playful and a little goofy alongside impassioned ballads.
Chamber Music NW continues its 2016-17 season with an appearance by the much-vaunted Calidore String Quartet. This LA-based group is going to be spending a fair amount of time in our city over the next year as they have been chosen to participate in a CMNW residency called the Protégé Project, which highlights younger musicians and lets local music fans and students get a closer look at their work through small club concerts and educational events. This group stops by in the midst of their very packed performance schedule to present three pieces, including Josef Haydn's folksy String Quartet op. 65 No. 5, known as "The Lark" for its lofty and delicate melody, and a piece written for the quartet by Caroline Shaw, a violinist and vocalist perhaps best known for her work with Kayne West.
Portland Piano International is getting very modern this month. With the help of curator Tamara Stefanovich, the organization is putting on a small festival of contemporary classical performances, classes, lectures, and film screenings. It's an impressive feat, not least of which because of the depth of the programming planned. The oldest piece in their schedule is from 1914 (Anton Webern's angular and almost terrifying Three Little Pieces, Op. 11, for cello and piano), with many having been written within the last two decades. While it's hard to single out one performance or event, if you can only make one concert, you'd do well to get to the opening night program where Stefanovich will play a selection of short works for piano like Gyorgy Ligeti's fractured minimalist masterwork Music ricercata and 12 Notations, the Pierre Boulez miniature that features 12 small sections that are 12 bars long with each only using a row of 12 notes.
The 93rd season of the Portland Youth Philharmonic kicks off this month with a program that is going to be something to behold. There's the news that concertgoers will be treated to the world premiere of Symphony No. 2 by local composer Tomáš Svoboda, and there will be a performance of Max Bruch's Romanze op. 85 that will allow 2016 PYP Soloist Competition winner Samuel Zacharia to show off his stuff. But the most intriguing is when the ensemble plays composer Pablo de Sarasate's by turns rhapsodic and manic Zigeunerweisen, as the group will use 20 different young violinists handling the solo.
The Bach Cantata Choir has a simple goal: to perform all of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas. The trick is that he wrote 200 of them, and the group has allowed themselves three decades to complete their task. To date, they've knocked out about 1/4 of them and are set to scratch two more off the list as part of their fall season tonight. On tap is Cantata #50 - "Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft," a swirling polyphony of voices and penitent pleadings and Cantata #34 - "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe,” which takes a more celebratory and almost triumphal tone.
There's an almost educational component to this upcoming performance by organist Alexander Weimann and the Portland Baroque Orchestra. The program begins with two of Frederic Handel's Organ Concertos, 18th century works that revel in the interplay between the broad strokes of an orchestra and the more fluid melodies played on a pipe organ before moving into three pieces that were directly influenced by those concertos from Mozart, C.P.E. Bach, and British composer Capel Bond.
There isn't anything particularly African about Camille Saint-Saëns' 1896 Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian” other than the fact that he wrote it while vacationing in Egypt. According to the composer, though, the melody was nicked from "a Nubian love song which I heard sung by boatmen on the Nile as I myself went down the river." In that case, we have these anonymous sea dwellers to thank for inspiring one of the French composer's most beautiful works that spends much of its time evoking a feeling of calm and peace before the final Molto allegro movement soars speedily away. For this piece, the Oregon Symphony will be joined by pianist Stephen Hough, the virtuoso that was last here in 2015 for a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 1.