MUSIC SCENES exist as a series of concentric circles. To use rock and punk as an example, small house and basement shows sit in the center, big arena and stadium events are on the outside, while varying sizes of venues and audiences rest somewhere between the two extremes.
In Portland’s classical community, the focus tends to remain on those larger concerts that take place within the ornate interior of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall or sizeable outdoor spaces like Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The programs for these shows reflect the prodigiousness of their surroundings with performances of juicy, blustery symphonies and concertos that sell a lot of tickets.
But composers writing spare and experimental pieces that demand close listening rarely see their labors of love performed. Luckily, local classical enthusiasts have access to plenty of groups that bring some of these small-scale, adventurous works to their ears, including the Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Cascadia Composers, and one of the latest additions to the cultural universe, Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series.
Curated by percussionist Matt Hannafin, the Extradition Series is a quarterly event that spotlights 20th and 21st century works originating from the various corners of the globe, composed by names as well known as John Cage and Alvin Lucier and as unheralded as Eva-Maria Houben and Takehisa Kosugi.
“It starts from a personal basis,” Hannafin says of the series. “I want to hear it. This is how I started playing. There were sounds that I wanted to hear that weren’t being produced by anyone I knew, so I started doing it myself. That’s the thing with these pieces that I’ve chosen for these events. I’m not hearing these things anywhere else.”
The Extradition Series’ first four concerts bore out this philosophy. There have been improvisational performances like the startling duet of Hannafin and oboist Catherine Lee in the inaugural event last January, and Matt Carlson, best known as one-half of Golden Retriever, extemporizing via modular synthesizer at the April 2016 show. Some musicians have also offered up new, more composed work to premiere, such as Derek Ecklund’s “A Dip in the Columbia”—a spellbinding piece that marries field recordings taken along the titular river to electronic noise and drones.
The heart of each Extradition Series event has been Hannafin’s selections of modern classical work. For the most part, the scores he picks are text or graphic-based—written out instructions by the composer or a picture rather than staff paper filled with notes and key signatures—that leaves the music open to chance and the whims of the player.
American composer Christian Wolff’s Stones (performed at the April event), for example, asks the players to use a bunch of rocks of various shapes and sizes and make noises with them: rubbing them together, tapping one against the ground or on the head of a drum. As long as nothing gets broken, anything the performers do is allowed.
The Winter Concert, the series’ first installment of the year, will follow a similar thread. The program starts with various pieces for either a solo performer, duo, or small group, such as Still & Moving Paper, a work by Australian musician Vanessa Tomlinson to be performed by Hannafin using the sounds from pencil, paper, and books strapped to his feet.
The evening closes with la solennité des silences, a piece by German composer Eva-Maria Houben that asks an all-star lineup (including Sage Fisher [AKA Dolphin Midwives] on harp, Andre St. James on bass, pianist Dana Reason, and Creative Music Guild artistic director Mike Gamble on guitar) to choose a single tone and play it at random intervals either alone or in harmony with another player with lots of silence in between each section.
“I want to realize focused works that explore purity, spaciousness, silence, and a feeling of naturally unfolding sound,” Hannafin says. “I find a piece I think will be beautiful, find musicians who could help release that beauty, and then hope. So far, it’s all worked out wonderfully.”