February 09, 2014, 10:45 AM posted by Maria Choban
Are you stuck inside? Snowbound?
Read Unholy Night on Oregon ArtsWatch. My trippy LSD-like experience of Phil Kline's Unsilent Night, and how PDX experienced this community music parade with boomboxes and winter brides.
Here's how it starts:
Pied Piper Mitchell Falconer and Grim Reaper Joshua Peters blaze the trail at Portland's "Unsilent Night" 2013
The Grim Reaper isn't so grim. Cavorting happily, winged arms flapping, draped in his full black hooded cape, smiling, magically appearing and disappearing, he tunnels like an electron to the front or the back of this flock of 50 that the Pied Piper is herding down the streets of Portland. Darting to and fro, left and right, the Reaper places himself intimidatingly between oncoming cars at intersections and the piper's marching flock, protecting them from. . .well. . .death.
Click here to continue reading, enjoying a multi-media experience with plenty of photos and Kline's music in the background!
Have a cozy and safe snocation!
the world outside my window
MC Hammered Klavier celebrates 75 years of Tomas Svoboda!
MC HAMMERED KLAVIER PRESENTS THE SVOBODA PROJECT 2
January 16, 2014, 05:41 PM posted by Maria Choban
go to program
go to artist bios
go to info about event
It was probably around 1970, the inaugural or second season of Chamber Music Northwest. I was nine years old. With my bestest-piano-partner-friend, MaryAnn Oringdulph, our younger sisters and her mom, we skipped excitedly from MaryAnn's house to the Reed College commons to hear a concert where we were promised we could sit on the floor - possibly under the piano!! I'm pretty sure this was the only allure that worked to get me to do something like this indoors on a beautiful Portland summer day!
The old Reed commons had a sunken floor; a race-track along the perimeter was sprinkled with chairs but the sunken interior was wide open for sprawling on cushions! I sat on my cushion just inside the northeast entrance, close to one of the TWO pianos!
I remember a young, wiry, twinkly man with a thick accent introducing something about the next piece that would be played. I remember another young man, Lawrence Smith (then conductor of the Oregon Symphony) sitting at the other piano, to his right. And then everything pixilated and exploded into rock and roll magic. From the opening of Tomas Svoboda's Sonata for Two Pianos, op. 55, contrapuntal peasant heaviness, LOUD, modal, dancing imminent . . . it was love at first hearing, the perfect storm session. Svoboda himself told me in early January this year that he recalled how immersed he was in the magic of that performance.
Twenty-three or four years later, in 1994, along with Kenn Willson, I presented The Svoboda Project, a pastiche of his piano works interwoven with Tomas narrating his life's story. AND I was finally going to play that two-piano sonata! Replicating my childhood experience, we lined the perimeter of the hall with seats, inviting people to bring cushions and sit on the floor -- even UNDER the pianos! The excitement was infectious -- we actually brought in a third piano because, so enthused was Tomas that he pleaded to join us on stage, writing the first movement of Four Visions for Three Pianos and finagling his way in as the third pianist. Unlike my childhood introduction, here we broke with tradition, placing the three pianos 25 feet apart (where sound starts to show its slower-than-the-speed-of-light delay), surrounding the audience in a stereo effect.
If it were not for Tomas Svoboda, I probably wouldn't give a shit about contemporary-classical music. I might even go so far as not giving a shit about all of classical music or even caring about this milieu enough to stay in and fight for it.
Twenty years after SP1, and even more besotted with Svoboda's works, MC Hammered Klavier is presenting The Svoboda Project 2, celebrating Tomas Svoboda's 75th year by expanding into his chamber works that still maintain the sound I love so much: exuberance, counterpoint, metal-madness, modal, mixed-metered earthy dance . . .in short, intelligent rock and roll!
PROGRAM FOR MARCH 15, 2014
Storm Session op. 126 (1987 and 1989)
Maria Choban, piano
I confess, I coveted this piece from the day of its inception. My friend John Tamburello, an electric guitarist who grew up playing in bands, had the epiphany that the electric guitar should have its own non-pop literature, so he commissioned works from composers he adored, including this duet originally written for electric guitar and electric bass. I had the privilege of playing the electric bass part (on acoustic piano) in the initial performances. Begging and cajoling for 20 years for permission from John and Tomas to arrange and play it on piano as a contemporary Bach invention, John finally relented. Tomas did not. So I went into the studio, cut a recording, marched it immediately over to Tomas and told him I'd recorded my piano solo arrangement of Storm Session with a dirty compressed sound. The grittier I described it, the more Tomas giggled and the wider his eyes got. By the time we actually got the disc into the player, I'm pretty sure Tomas heard only my prior verbal description, giving me his blessing while supposedly listening to the recording.
The Oregonian newspaper wrote: "Svoboda's 'Storm Session' from 1987 is pure rock and roll. It opens with melodic unisons . . . and continues with unprepared jabs that build to a furious climax. Choban thrashed it."
Fugue op. 87 (1978-81)
Mike Hsu - violin
Elizabeth Goy - cello
Maria Choban - piano
The second part of the Passacaglia and Fugue op. 87, the Fugue is a mash-up of a furiously energetic game of "Tag --you're it!" with "Hide-and-seek" played outdoors in the summer, running across open fields into the cool dark woods to hide, and when no one's looking, dashing back out, all heading for home base where we joyously tumble to the ground, out of breath.
Andante meditativo op. 121 (1985)
Maria Choban, piano
Plaintive, pleading and finally giving up, this middle portion of Svoboda's three-part Sonata no. 2 for piano, op. 121, is one of only three works I've encountered that aurally describes what it is to be so depressed that suicide seems the only catharsis. Relentless repeating patterns whisper incessantly in the left hand around D-flat and B-flat. There is no escape from those taunting voices. A cry for help in the right hand half way through sets off an impotent tantrum, an attempt to pull out of this sinking hell. It doesn't work and the end is inevitable, unsentimental, final. The good news is that the third part of this piece is ebullient and strong, a testament that more often we do segue out of the worst of times. The bad news is that you're not going to hear the third part tonight.
Scherzo op. 186 (2004)
Janet Bebb, flute
Chris Cox, clarinet
Maria Choban, piano
I first heard this light-hearted Scherzo right before the intermission of a concert in 2010 with Tomas playing the piano part and his long-time Trio Spektrum partners Marilyn Shotola on flute and Stan Stanford on clarinet. It so enchanted me that as soon as the clapping waned I strode up the stage like a Cat-Dozer and over to Tomas who was still at the piano and bought his personal copy of his score! He mailed me the other parts soon after. Listen for the short eruption of swingin' jazz in the middle of the piece. Who knew??
Suite op. 124 (1985-86/92)
Mitchell Falconer, piano
Maria Choban, piano
How about using THIS as a soundtrack to your next movie?? 1st movement = chase scene. 2nd movement = that uncomfortable, quiet tension before all bloody hell breaks loose. 3rd movement: all bloody hell breaks loose.
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Janet Bebb, flutist, has studied flute at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music as well as privately in Boston, Honolulu and Florence, Italy. Janet grew up playing classical music and has also studied south Indian flute in India, saz and kaval in Turkey, and recorders in Italy. Pursuing her interest in world music, Janet studied ethnomusicology at Tufts University. For the past 15 years she has been a dedicated chamber music player in the Portland area. She is a founding member of the Mousai Ensemble.
Read more about Janet and The Mousai on The Mousai Performers page
Maria Choban, pianist, a/k/a MC Hammered Klavier. The gangster of classical music wields an irreverent blog, Alitisa.com, with which she pussy whips the flaccid denizens of this milieu, helping to change the game to include younger and broader audiences, contemporary music, classical jam sessions in bars, and more DIY classical from the grassroots. The gangster wields a mean piano too. Using her superpowers for good and not evil, she teams up with superheroes like The Mousai, Storm Session, Falconer, bringing hip, smart, accessible contemporary music and -- with hip, smart panache -- classics to a wide range of listeners.
Chris Cox, clarinetist, is actively involved in performing with orchestral and chamber music groups in the Portland area. He currently holds principal positions in the Starlight Symphony, Soundstage Rhythm Orchestra and the University of Portland Community Orchestra and performs with the Chinook Winds woodwind trio.
Mitchell Falconer, pianist, first started making music in 2nd grade in the school choir, played clarinet in marching band and continued singing all through high school. As a student at Madras High he performed in drama club musicals, sang for two seasons with Bend's Obsidian Opera, and was the youngest member of the Central Oregon Mastersingers. When he was 15, two life changing events happened: someone stole his clarinet, and he heard Satie's Gnossiennes and decided to learn to play them. Within a year he was playing preludes by Debussy and his love for playing the piano eventually overcame his love of singing. He moved to Portland last September.
Betsy Goy, cellist, a/k/a Dexter, has played with symphony orchestras and chamber groups across the country and enjoyed eclectic recording opportunities with Patti Larkin, the New England Women's Symphony, the original Bagels Forever radio jingle, and a glorious but microscopic period of airtime on MTV's Head Banger's Ball as a dead ghost cellist.
Betsy is grateful to the Beaverton School District of halcyon days, when music and orchestra were important formative parts of her regular school curriculum.
Although she routinely confuses liver for kidney, she is somehow allowed to practice in a medical setting, where she works as a clinical psychologist.
Mike Hsu, violinist, a/k/a The JukeBox, is a doctor by day and an on-call rebel-fiddler by night. An experienced soloist, Mike has appeared with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, University of Michigan Life Sciences Orchestra, Puget Sound Symphony Orchestra (PSSO), and Sunnyside Symphony Orchestra. He is known to play on-demand nearly a dozen violin concertos by memory (hence the nickname). As an improvisational fiddler and songwriter, Mike has recorded two non-classical albums, Waiting for the Dawn and Adaptation (available at cdbaby), with styles ranging from bluegrass to new wave to hip hop. He has also written a symphonic work and a number of chamber works premiered by members of PSSO (search for "Mike Hsu" and the words "quintet", "quartet", "caprice", or "Andante" on YouTube). He is overjoyed to have connected with fellow rebel-rousers Maria Choban and Betsy Goy.
Tomas Svoboda, composer. "I am NOT a minimalist, as some critics and reviewers have indicated!" sputters Tomas Svoboda. His sound, often confused with the minimalists who engendered and drove a generation of jungle-beat ostinato in the dance-pop world, differs from theirs in that Svoboda propels ostinato in short phases with abrupt changes and a sense of drama -- the exploding raucous rock-and-roll exuberance in Storm Session or metal-madness in the last movement of his Suite, whose first movement resembles more-orthodox phase-change minimalism . . . if orthodox minimalists were not such somnambulists.
Some accolades: nominated for a Grammy award for his Concerto for Marimba and Trumpet in 2003, American Record Guide's Critics' Choice award winner for his Piano Trios in 2001, recipient of Oregon's Governor's Arts Award AND Oregon Music Teachers Composer of the Year (both in 1992). Born in Paris in 1939, educated at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Music, he earned his master's degree at the University of Southern California, where he studied composition with Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens. In 1971 he joined the music faculty at Portland State University, where he taught until he retired in 1998. Read his official biography at TomasSvoboda.com
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MC Hammered Klavier: The Svoboda Project 2 takes place Saturday, March 15 at 7:30 pm at the Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis. 503-823-3177
One hour show. FREE! Suitable for classical music virgins.
This Concert is part of the March Music Moderne 2014 festspiel
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WHITE COLLAR CRIMINALS
January 08, 2014, 08:28 AM posted by Maria Choban
It's Christmas day. Standing at an intersection of trails, old and new, I ponder out loud like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: "We could go this way," pointing, "Or that way," pointing in another direction. Like the old ones, these brand new paths are paved, off road, wending through wetlands and woods. My sister and niece point to one of the under-construction trails and exclaim "Oooooooooooo! Let's go THAT way!!"
THAT way is around a flimsy orange net barrier with a flimsier home computer/printer generated sign stating "Trail Construction No Public Access." In this gorgeous weather -- clear sky, brisk temperatures -- 30 plus others had the same reaction: "Oooooooooo! Let's go THAT way!!"
We're crossing a stream on a bridge not yet ready for prime time. Decking is mostly in place but at sharp corners we pick our way over blank areas. The ends are not sawed off and finished and the decking is not even all nailed down. Piles of 2x6's criss-cross, making the trek to the other side even more of a suburban obstacle course. We keep one eye on the danger below and the other scouting for who's oncoming. Once we safely cross we all look up. A young daddy on a bike pulling a Burley trailer with a tiny passenger approaches. Only slowing down enough to assess the difficulty level, he commences over the bridge. I can't watch.
I live in an area where we take our outdoor recreation seriously. We are not urban commuters trying to play nice with cars, walking or biking only several blocks to a destination. One of the best dance instructors in Portland commutes several miles on these trails, on his bike, from his house to the MAX station and back, daily! The trails are choked with all-ages, multi-ethnic/lingual, recreating, learning to ride bikes, returning from a grocery shopping trip, holding hands on their way to a favorite vegan noodle restaurant, walking to the woods. So choked that Washington County is extending the system as fast as it can, connecting it with paved trails already built in other parts of the county.
It's the 12th Day of Christmas and my true love said to me: "Let's Go For A Walk!!!"
At the same intersection, I ponder the same problem I had on Christmas Day: Which way to go. Alas! The unopened trail is now barricaded with a 6-foot high, 10-foot wide chain link gate! Ain't no way daddy and Burley are getting around this! My partner-in-crime hands me the frisbee and swings out and around one side of the decking, landing on the other side of the gate, holding onto the pillar where the gate is anchored. I follow. It's just as beautiful and twice as crowded as it was on Christmas Day!! Suburban criminals EVERYWHERE!!! (Caught in the criminal act: one nefarious Oregon Symphony violinist, PF, and his wife who shall remain abbreviated.) Frolicking like puppies on these seductive new gateways to criminal behavior disguised as healthy exercise.
Not one kid in sight! I bust out laughing when a 40-ish plumpish mom, shoulder length straight dishwater blonde hair with bangs exclaims as we make eye contact. "And I WONDER why my kids don't follow rules!"
December 20, 2013, 10:27 AM posted by Maria Choban
Ahmet Ertegun had the nose. So did David Geffen and Walter Yetnikoff. All three took meh periods in the (pop) music world at that time and transfigured them into blistering hot commodities. Yetnikoff rediscovered Michael Jackson, fighting to get him signed to the company over which he later presided, a flagging Columbia Records. Geffen trolled the Sunset Strip, discovering Jackson Browne and The Eagles. Ertegun founded Atlantic Records and discovered greats like Led Zeppelin and Ray Charles: "When I first heard Ray Charles, he was a flop artist on a small label in California. He hadn't sold any records. And I bought his contract for $2500." (Ahmet Ertegun)
But where are the scouts in classical music? Scouts are a necessity in this business of rebuilding excitement and exploding the demographic in Classical Music. Why do pop composers and songwriters keep emerging into the public eye, but classical composers don't? Why do so many Portland presenting groups keep programming stuff by dead people and New Yorkers and not living Portlanders? Classical doesn't have a good system for scouting homegrown talent.
Portland has a burgeoning healthy creative scene with composers hanging out with the Cascadia Composers consortium or with ClassicalRevolutionPDX if they're not outright regulars in either/both. What Portland has lacked is a clearing houses where an audience or performers or presenters could peruse a lot of composers in a one-stop-shopping-spree like Geffen's Sunset Strip.
Ann van Bever is the best scout I know in classical music. For five plus years she has successfully trolled the web for concert pieces for our ensemble, The Mousai, building an audience that expects to be charmed by the repertoire -- taken for a Sunday spin beyond the too familiar oldies landscape, avoiding the hardcore thorny Modernist contemporary rutted roads. Ann has that gift of knowing what sells without dumbing down the genre.
"there's no more appealing concert of contemporary music in Oregon this weekend than the Mousai's Sunday afternoon showcase at First Presbyterian Church's Celebration Works series. . . . the concert offers the characteristically American (north and south) rhythms and melodies of Brian DuFord's Gershwinesque "New York Streetscapes," Kevin Gray's African-influenced prepared piano work "Mebasi," Montana composer David Maslanka's bucolic "Blue Mountain Meadow," Paquito D'Rivera's (better known to jazz fans, and a fine composer) "Danzon," and a relative oldie, French composer Darius Milhaud's (who taught for many years at California's Mills College) 1938 medieval-flavored wind work "King Renee's Chimney." The concert also includes the premiere of a brand new work the group commendably commissioned from a young Oregon composer who was featured at last summer's Chamber Music Northwest, Katrina Kramarchuk." (Oregon ArtsWatch March 9, 2013)
What makes Ann so great is not just her spot-on nose for finding smart and charismatic contemporary classical music, but going beyond herself and her own performances and seeking this stuff out for all sorts of ensembles. In fact, I dream of a paid position where ensembles and orchestras and operas hire folks like Ann to do their scouting for them, to insure that whatever they put on stage garners an explosive reaction from the audience which then fosters allegiance and the desire to bring their friends to the next performances.
Here's Ann's problem. She spends waaaaaayyyyyyy too much of her limited time searching for fresh new contemporary classical music to bring to the stage - trolling through youtube channels, lurking moar on Soundcloud, or just plain googling in the dark.
Because there is no Sunset Strip, no Atlantic Records. There are only atomized composer sites out there (when composers actually think and act entrepreneurially). Ann and others have trouble finding Oregon composers in particular. Even if Portland concert presenters want to program Oregon composers, where do they go look for them?
Oregon ComposersWatch and Cascadia Youtube Channel To The Rescue!!
Gary Ferrington, champion of contemporary classical music created Oregon ComposersWatch, a page on Oregon ArtsWatch which acts as a clearing house for Oregon composers. So far 29 composers have submitted biographies, samples of their work and websites if they have them.
Mike Hsu, also a composer listed on ComposersWatch, created a
youtube channel for Cascadia Composers, compiling all of their recorded concerts of their newly and oldly minted works in one place for us to peruse!
Ann's task just got hugely easier thanks to Ferrington/Oregon ArtsWatch and Hsu/Cascadia Composers. Like Ertegun, Yetnikoff and Geffen, she can now spend time listening and trusting her nose without having to spend hours hunting down composers one link at a time.
To us performers and presenters I issue the challenge that is now much easier than Ann's years of finding contemporary classical repertoire: I challenge us to program at least ONE Oregonian on our concerts.
To us the interested general audience I issue the challenge to "lurk moar" on Oregon ComposersWatch and Cascadia Composers youtube channel and harangue performers and presenters to program pieces we discovered and fell in love with! The future of this genre lies with all of us scouts! The future is NOW!
No More Brahms, Bitches!!!
"YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WA-ANT!"
December 13, 2013, 06:16 AM posted by Maria Choban
So aptly put by The Rolling Stones.
What do I want?
So aptly asked by Socrates.
I am an adrenaline junky and I get off on the new, the exciting, the uncomfortable. In my recent article for Oregon Arts Watch covering Classical Revolution PDX, this would make me a Futurist.
But I LOVE library literature . . . . . IF I can express it in my usually proscribed way, avoiding stale but legal interpretations handed down by master teachers for generations. I think Bach is an explosive killer, I think Mendelssohn's c minor piano trio is death metal and requires Lenny Bernstein sensibilities to bring it off. I think Ravel's piano trio is so sexual that if I'm not wet when I finish playing it, I haven't done my job - for me or for my audience!
I lash out at fear based controlling people. Guess what? My father is a fear based narcissist.
I suppose it might look like I lashed out in my article Futurists and Librarians on Oregon Arts Watch chronicling CRPDX's year - 2013. I'd like to think I worked through some of the issues socratically (asking the questions internally, answering them in the article). YOU be the judge! Please leave a comment (or 2!) on the site.
Futurists and Librarians on Oregon Arts Watch
November 30, 2013, 10:58 AM posted by Maria Choban
I'm making no headway. This conversation started badly: "What is the most important thing about music?" I didn't ask that leading question but I am on the receiving end.
"um . . . . . . . . . . " (me)
"AUDITORY!! IT'S AUDITORY!!!!" (my father explodes, answering his own leading question)
Okay, that's sane - which I wasn't expecting. I was going to answer my usual "I'm not a mind reader! And your question can only be answered subjectively!!!"
Now we're mired in the nitty-gritty of what makes GOOD music.
When I argue this with my boyfriend I'm on the other side, my dad's side. When I'm arguing this with my dad, I take my boyfriend's side. The world's a funny place.
"Dad, there is no good or bad. There is only stuff You like and stuff You don't."
"Maria, you ignorant slut!" (no, he didn't say that; and although he uses a cell phone way better than me, his pop culture references stop at pre-WW2 Packards) "Music is the means by which we soothe our minds, our beings! The means by which we . . ."
"Dad" I interrupt, "that's very Asian of you and certainly it's one opinion, but music is wayyyyyyy more than that to wayyyyyyyy more people."
"Oh Maria, you can hear a pin drop in the audience when Vilja is played and sung during The Merry Widow" (an opera by Franz Lehar).
"Yes! for That audience! It's narcissism to think what you feel will be felt by everyone, that it's a universal truth!"
"EVERYONE FEELS LIKE THAT ABOUT VILJA!!!!!!!!"
CRAZY JANE MISBEHAVES
November 19, 2013, 05:09 AM posted by Maria Choban
I've never been a fan of female composers. Yet I am at an all-female-composers concert. Oddly, I'm not grousing, but only because I'm also a natural cheerleader and a lot of my acquaintances are on that stage or behind the scenes having written pieces or worked their asses off or still working their asses off to make this concert the success that it is.
Still, in my experience, pieces written by females, Clara Schumann or Jewel or . . . . . . usually meander; I leave the building, mentally writing the shopping list for the trip to the store afterward or growing more restless and resentful or clicking to the next song on my mp3 player.
I have not been hooked, no frisson. The emotional content stays on the surface or is not present at all. Often, a lot of care is taken in writing these compositions; carefully creating props but without ever diving into the guts of stuff like anger, sex, violence, victorious ebullience, etc. And frankly, the writing needs a good editor in most cases. (Actually, this is the case with ALL composers. Funny how this step is a given in the text writing world but a taboo in music writing).
Something is shifting, however. I'm not automatically defaulting to "she's just a girl" when I hear meandering unorganized detached impulsive-sounding musings composed by females -- in large part because of Cascadia Composers and my close-up exposure to the creatives of both genders.
Clara Schumann Is an example of a female composer who is Not gifted.
In The Wedding Diaries, she over and over states that she's a miserable composer, writing only to quell her husband's nagging to get her to write. She's clear-sighted about her strengths and her weaknesses. She knows she's a terrific pianist/performer and she critiques and writes about others' performances with self-assurance and acerbic wit. And I agree with her assessments of her gifts and weaknesses.
But then there's Ruth Crawford Seeger. I love her stuff! She too had an in-house editor/instructor in her husband, Charles Seeger. But she also has something more: the ability (willingness) to boldly go into areas considered the milieu of males -- muscularity, anger, visceral gutty writing that evokes feeling from me rather than observation (of how pretty or how well crafted a phrase, or the converse).
Back in the audience at Crazy Jane Misbehaves, Cascadia Composers' all-female composer concert I was at Friday evening, I wait for the technical difficulties to be resolved by a rock&roll looking roadie in a yellow beanie and black long-sleeved-tee and a woman in a blue fuzzy animal costume. Bonnie Miksch, the woman in the costume, is also the composer of the piece she's about to perform. The stage goes dark and Miksch, who has retreated backstage, makes her formal entrance for Solstice for voice, electronics, didgeridoo and computer realized recording.
There is one spot of light and it's on the only performer on stage. If anyone saw the movie When Harry Met Sally and remembers the orgasm scene Meg Ryan, the actress, portrayed hysterically in the restaurant, this was Nothing like that!
This was sex at its finest. No silly porn, no silly, period.
Miksch wove great female recorded orgasmic vocals over looped pitches, singing along with her own text and giving the greatest blow-job I've ever seen on the didgeridoo! OH! AND she undulates like a motherfucking sex goddess!!!!!!!!!!!!! In the words of Mick Jagger, "She'd make a dead man cum."
I turned to my boyfriend after the piece was over, exhausted, trembling, but still excited and whispered hoarsely, "I'd fuck that!"
And I'm straight!
Bonnie Miksch onstage at Crazy Jane Misbehaves
Miksch's was the most graphic example on the concert of females delving into previously male territory in an emotionally immersed, visceral non-campy way. But she wasn't the only one. Emyli Poltorak built an effective climax to anger with her Alpha Beta for vocals, clarinet, cello - vocalist Jeffrey Evans screaming "GOVERN - MENTAL!!!!" and tearing his hair out. And she did this in a round-about way, teasing us en route with luscious middle-eastern modal meanderings that did not feel lost and wandering.
Martha Bryan, billed as soprano but is so much more, sold everything she touched with the conviction of a sexy, no-nonsense dominatrix. She reminded me of my grandmother - lots of humor, no histrionics, people running to do her bidding with a subtle crook of her finger. Bryan's voice is really capable, but it's her acting that sets her apart. She really thinks about her parts beyond just getting everything on the page, choreographing her movements to not just her own music lines, but to the phrases in the other instruments! Her ensemble work was tight, mirroring the players in both pieces. I readily followed her crooked finger through all her performances Friday evening.
Martha Bryan onstage at Crazy Jane Misbehaves
It was a night of females stretching and in doing so, connecting with conviction and panache. The audience was well taken care of, something I'm always attuned to. A presenter from another organization was in the audience and I just about wept while she updated me on her various series, over and over again saying "My audience felt . . . I asked my audience. . ." whenever she'd bring up a particular show or different tactic she'd tried. MY AUDIENCE. We write or create, we put ourselves on stage, or interpret, for you, for me, the audience. And I felt that the Crazy Janes embodied the movement in this direction Friday night.
From the solid pieces curated for variety, from the visceral content to the visceral performances, from the careful attention to entertaining concert attire (my favorite -- the three performers in Alpha Beta: clarinetist in black and white spotted tight pants and top, cellist in tight plaid pants and white top, vocalist in tie-dye pants and white top with a whacky necktie writhing like a snake), to the sexy stockinged stage legs which made the set changes much more bearable, this was a concert put on for us, the audience.
Yes, I would have preferred a shorter concert. Yes, I would have culled pieces and sent the rest back to be shortened. Yes, I would have re-ordered the program. But this applies to darn near every show I attend regardless of composers' gender.
I am impressed with the role models in this group, setting examples of visceral immersion, delving into what was once taboo territory for female composers, perhaps even leading to a friendly public rivalry with their male counterparts? I love the idea of Crazy Jane. I'd love to see a two day festival where perhaps this gentle rivalry can help push composers of Both genders even further out of their restricted comfort zones. I definitely want to be in That audience, in on That action!!
Crazy Jane and Mad Max?
November 08, 2013, 01:22 PM posted by Maria Choban
Halloween was over but fear was in the air even before last Sunday's ClassicalRevolutionPDX jam began at The Waypost. Held on the first Sunday of every month, music revolutionaries gather to boldly go where they've never gone before. Newbies attend their first classical music gathering ever, not-so-newbies drag their high school instruments out of the closet and timidly ask a pianist to accompany them, tentative composers approach instrumentalists and bare their compositions on stage in front of the god Antonio (who oversees Sunday night's shenanigans from behind the bar) and everyone, and then there's the extra twist. . . . . wait for it at the end.
Why do we do it? I think because fear is a natural tester. Fear's permutations are the dragons we slay in order to feel good about ourselves; in order to progress past wanting to be taken care of, moving on to asking and receiving what we want and need, finally becoming fully fledged citizens of a community, erasing our own egos in preference of hopefully having some broader perspective to help aid the progress of the community (civilization). Think Herculean Tasks or the movie Saw.
The great thing about CRPDX is that it provides a supportive and exciting, encouraging atmosphere that lets everyone overcome their fears simply by going for it without fear of being judged by the wrong standards.
Rumor has it that these two vixens got shushed at The Waypost Sunday night
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
Here's what I smelled in the air Sunday night:
Fear of divulging weakness.
Fear of not being accepted.
Fear of being found out that one is an imposter, or not good enough.
Fear of the unknown and not having the right answer.
Fear of the new, of leaving one's comfort zone.
Fear of change.
I'll begin with my fear of divulging weakness, exacerbated with the second act which was delightful! I had no idea our linchpin violinist, Mike Hsu, who doubles on chin-cello, is also a fantastic pianist, surprising me when he sensitively accompanied Jennifer Woodall on clarinet with NOT violin (as I assumed) but on piano, playing Portland composer Brent Weaver's Lament from the Four Vocalises originally for soprano and piano, transcribed later for saxophone and piano, later adapted for clarinet and piano, which was the version we heard Sunday night. What a moving performance! I play only one instrument and I work like HELL to sound like anything! I am in awe of these gods who can play very very well several instruments. I am especially stunned when my expectations are exceeded. I think Mike told me he played remedial piano, I had no idea he played remedial piano so well! Perhaps Mike's is a subset of my fear, steeling himself to play his second instrument in public in front of people for whom piano is their first instrument -- scary when one is good at one thing, throwing himself into a situation where he might feel less than.
Mike Hsu on viola (!)
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
I definitely feel lacking in the complete-musician department. "dunno much about musicology, dunno much instrumentology. . . . " I am also a shitty sight-reader and I try to keep this a secret, deferring to other fabulous pianists in attendance whenever anyone approaches me to accompany them at these jams. I do NOT want to trash their evening with my weakness, nor do I want to appear less than the small god that I think I am.
Mike Hsu (piano) and Jennifer Woodall (clarinet) playing Lament by Brent Weaver
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
As The Universe would have it, I followed Lament by Brent Weaver sight-reading an early Mendelssohn piano quartet WITHOUT the aid of Valium disguised as Boneyard Ale! -- lest you think we imbibed orgiastically all night long on all new local composition played brilliantly as modeled by Woodall and Hsu. In my defense, I was taken completely by surprise when another linchpin of these whacky marvelous nights, Ginny Feldman, violinist who also doubles on piano (and CAN sight-read brilliantly), side-swiped me seconds into our ravenous clapping for the Weaver piece, challenging me to play the Mendelssohn even as she had lined me up several days earlier to sight-read through a Beethoven piano trio that same evening. Two library works in one night for me! Sight-reading!!! There was no time for a panic attack. There was no time to develop a disastrous cramp in my hand, requiring me to sit out the rest of the evening. Thank god the rest of the band was brilliant and as supportive as the Schumann piano quintet band I sat in with last year; Ginny Feldman - violin, Grace Young - viola, Mike Hsu - chin-cello (viola with strings tuned one octave lower to match the cello register).
Maria Choban sight-reading Mendelssohn's second piano quartet.
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
On to the fear of not being accepted. A young beat-boxer who had never attended a classical music event was sitting in the audience. Dreadlocked, eyes closed through many of the pieces, I finally had a chance to introduce myself and get his back-story. He was there because a friend told him about the revolution. I asked if he'd perform and he said his friend mentioned it was only classical. Ummmmmm. . . . . . . ostinato cool rhythms, with quick phase changes. . . . . . . . can you say "Minimalism" ??!!!!??????? Not only did Jonah Lee take the stage beat-boxing, but the don, Corbellioni, joined him, improvising on cello! It began rather disjointedly as both figured out how to collaborate while still keeping their own parts moving forward. About halfway through Jonah turned to face the don and started listening and accompanying his lines. Magic!!!!!!! I asked Jonah to come back in December so that I could do the same with him but with a written piece - perhaps a downtempo version of Bach's c minor Prelude, perhaps a medley of library classics, perhaps with a chamber piece. Anyone wanna join me?
Fear of the unknown and not having the right answer. Pauline Oliveros' Quintessence for four instruments and/or vocalists to be determined by the performers was practiced, rehearsed and performed in one take! Mitchell Falconer's vocals stole the show. Who Knew????? I want to hear him perform Neurotic and Lonely from Gabriel Kahane's Craigslist Lieder. But the real story is about the four type-A performers on stage and the preparation work they did to present a piece by a legend in the field of Deep Listening. Within our own four little boxes (I was one of the four type-A's), we obsessed over the directions Oliveros provided as the score. So filled with integrity and fear of letting down Oliveros and her score, it took Jonah in his performance with Christopher Corbell to show us what Deep Listening might actually mean: Getting outside our selves.
Fear of the new, of leaving one's comfort zone. This one happens so often at CRPDX jams that I almost take it for granted: Musicians I've never seen before showing up, venturing outside their comfortable environments - maybe piano meet-up groups, maybe just their own houses, nervous, exceeding their and everyone's expectations. Kela Parker wowed me with her own untitled work, jazz inspired, Fantasia-like but with clear direction. Shlomo Farber braved a performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in F Major. Ann Something (I never caught her last name, darnit) played an eye-popping Petrarch Sonnet #4 by Liszt.
Ann playing Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet #4
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
Fear of being found out that one is an imposter, or not good enough. This mostly applies to the autodidacts, the self-taught, the enormous talents who feel less than because they don't have the years of formal training that might allow the Wizard of Oz to bestow upon them the medal of Musician. I develop crushes on those who exhibit this fear and deal with it like assassins In Bruge. My piano partner in Tomas Svoboda's Suite for piano 4-hands is a great example. Mitchell Falconer is wisely scared spitless of the third movement, which I've seen trashed horribly in concert. Mitchell and I didn't do it much justice the first two times we took it out for its public spin. I've watched Mitchell shake even in rehearsals and persevere. This movement is so complex and brutally violent that it makes the sacrificial dance from Stravinksy's Rite of Spring seem like It's a Small World After All from Disneyland.
At Sunday's jam, I hung back, never pressing Mitchell to take the stage with this third movement of Svoboda's suite, waiting for him to call the shot. Usually we go on at the height of crowd. We both love annihilating the audience, true assassin hearts that we have. This time it almost seemed like we wouldn't play it, and I had offered this option to Mitchell at the prior rehearsal, that we could wait until the December jam to roll it out. Late late into the evening, toward the very end when the crowd had thinned noticeably, Mitchell looked at me with resolve. This performance wasn't about the piece. This performance was about helping my partner batter the terror of this piece. I love being "where no one has gone before." I love being part of the support system in this situation as well. There will be plenty of times for me to play this like I'm Salome in Richard Strauss's opera. Sunday night I had to rein myself in, be a coldly calm assassin, shepherd the new assassin in this rite.
It went brilliantly! To see Mitchell come through this with a clean kill, a grin on his face I've probably seen only once before when he nailed For Cornelius (by Alvin Curran) one of the first times I heard/saw him play, was an American Express moment.
I do new scary things because I hold role models like Mitchell close, like a picture in a locket. If they can do it, so can I. I see this over and over at these jams with others who take courage from examples they see/hear on stage and then take the stage themselves. Like Josh Kreydatus, one of my favorite new composers, a freshly minted Portlander from San-Francisco. I've watched him over the course of about a year work on his fear of performing. Sunday was a triumph! I got to hear him play one of his compositions Lucifugous ("Avoiding Light," in tribute to setting the clocks back one hour) and finish the show with a convincing idiosyncratic interpretation of the second movement from Beethoven's Pathetique sonata. Lucifugous starts off Satie-like in its mood and pacing with Danny Elfman-style harmonies and progressions. When he tightens up the second half and writes it all down, I want to play it. Kreydatus has a gift for UN-cloying lyricism with quirky but accessible harmonic progressions.
Fear of change. One third of the evening was devoted to known repertoire works. I mention this because at a special State of the CRPDX Union meeting held before the jam, it was for the second time mentioned that we ought to devote a consecrated block of time to performing/reading library literature at the jams. I am against this NOT because I don't care for library literature. Y'all know how I feel about Bach (if you don't, read this. I intend to be his bitch in the afterlife!). I further think that Mendelssohn's c minor piano trio is an underrated work of meth-madness.
Ginny Feldman (violin), Mike Hsu (chin-cello), Maria Choban (piano) in Beethoven's piano trio op.11
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
What I am against is the hierarchical imposition of RULES on a democratic organization. If y'all want more library literature at the jams, it's in your control. BRING IT ON!!!!! No one's stopping anyone from playing library lit. If anyone wants to play it, just bring the music and the players to the party. Don't make the organization the parent. If I (who LOVE the explosion of new local composition) bitch, BITCH BACK AT ME - PUBLICLY!!! I don't think I'm bitching. There's a difference between me articulating my heart-stopping fear at sight-reading (which happens to mostly be library literature in these situations) and being obstinate about hearing/playing this literature (which I don't think I am being). Face your fears like Josh, Jonah, Mitchell, Ann, Shlomo and maybe even me. This fear that CRPDX is changing does not mean we lose library literature. It means we learn to ask for what we want and to delight when others do so, enjoying a much broader mix. To boldly go. SO GO FOR IT!
David Binnig (trumpet), Maria Choban (piano), Christopher Corbell (cello), Mitchell Falconer (vocals) in Pauline Oliveros' Quintessence
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
THE STATE OF THE UNION
November 01, 2013, 03:38 PM posted by Maria Choban
"It's a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.
Yes, Dan'l Webster's dead -- or, at least, they buried him. But every time there's a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, "Dan'l Webster -- Dan'l Webster!" the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he's liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that's what I was told when I was a youngster." The Devil and Daniel Webster -- Stephen Vincent Benet (1937)
Happily, I would not have to lie to Dan'l Webster. The union of alt.classical, decidedly democratic versus the old hierarchical symphony models, stands strong and united, albeit small. But small was the state of the micro beer-brewing industry 20 years ago and look where we are today.
Inclusive and democratic by nature, I giggle with warmth when I see exclusive markets open up and the tattooed young are eagerly discussing the use of floral tasting hops with my previously "Budweiser-only!" beer drinking ex husband, the contra-dance community is infiltrating the stodgy argentine tango community and injecting some much needed fun and lightness, folks I've never seen at traditional classical music concerts -- much younger/counter culture -- are engaging with the performers/composers as though their listening experience mattered (vs. deferential hierarchical reverence). And the result so far seems to be bigger audiences with broader, more democratic-demanding (entitled) demographics in at least these three observed areas.
I believe in unity and community and all that jazz. I have lots of respected friends within the classical music community that constantly espouse this mantra, constantly reminding the community to support classical music by attending as many events as possible, as though we're a scrum of 5 year olds chasing concerts around town like a soccer ball on the playing field. But the state of the union and its democratic growth will not thrive on the shoulders of the exclusive (and tired) few. Once again, I loved the broad demographic at Classical RevolutionPDX's "Decomposers Night" at the previously porn theater, The Star. Underground and gritty with alt.classical CRPDX opening the evening's events for Myrrh Larsen's band who followed AND collaborated with CRPDX, in turn followed by the goth act Church of Hive, I saw goth bunny suits in the audience, I saw the young, the energetic explorers of the new.
Apart from hearing a brilliantly curated show, scouted from amongst NOT the usual suspects -- again, throwing the net further afield (best performances of newly minted music this season!), I heard gasps from the audience as the aerialist, Petra Delarocha, wove a sensitive if death-defying act with Jason O'Neill-Butler's Sandman (2013) -- written for this show!!! Lest you think it was the visuals that made this show work, the hugest response with whistles and yells came for Kate Petak's abridged arrangement of Andre Caplet's Conte Fantastique (1924) with a wicked in every sense of the word harp part played thusly by Petak. NOTHING backed this, just the balls and brawn and intensity of Kate Petak on harp, Chris Fotinakis and Sharon Cannon on violins, Grace Young, viola and Owen Hoffman-Smith on cello. A friend of mine leaned over and whispered that it reminded him of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp;
only if Ravel had taken a couple hits of acid and then witnessed a Jack-the-Ripper slaughter! Petak tortured the harp strings, pulling and plucking as though the victim was still alive.
Every piece on this program was thoughtfully presented, like a beautifully hung art-show (or . . . :-) for the enjoyment of the audience, the people. And while I would have arranged the program differently and coached the performers to take a cue from the violist, Grace Young, who ate up the stage with her unpretentious but captivating stage presence . . . BACKED BY SOLID CHOPS AND PREPARATION, I cannot quibble with the content and the preparation.
I will, however, quibble that live shows must deal better with the transition between acts. Perhaps setting up two areas on the stage so that while one act performs the other sets up? Behind an easily moveable portable screen? The loss of momentum between acts really works against live shows. CRPDX is choosing to partially attack this problem with really witty MC's like Sam Mowry at Decomposers Night and Leo Daedalus at the Summer Showcase 2013, who work hard to maintain the momentum of the show by keeping us the audience engaged and laughing.
I am amused by the results from how well both Cascadia Composers and Classical Revolution PDX actually listen to suggestions AND IMPLEMENT! I noticed at the last Cascadia concert just how well these composers have learned to think about the experience and enjoyment of the audience with how they program a concert, in what order the pieces are performed, and the very engaging program notes. All these changes are populist because they put the priority on entertaining a wide variety of people, not just insiders. I noticed at Classical Rev's Decomposers Night the high caliber (smart and enjoyable) repertoire married with tight performances. Both groups are on a steep learning curve raising their standards in previously weak areas. Both are succeeding.
Classical Revolution PDX also throws its name and growing muscle behind other alt.classical acts like Ashia and the Bison Rouge, Beth Karp and The Golem project, Caitlin Mathes and the Weill'd Wild West show. CRPDX is starting to become the central clearinghouse for other alt.classical acts, trying new stuff, attracting new audiences to their own shows. What a great role for the organization, making it more valuable to the community than just its original role. What a great way of building new audience -- encouraging creators/performers to be unique, sharing news of their events, expanding awareness amongst creators, audience, (burgeoning) institutions of what constitutes the brave new classical AND EMBRACING IT!
But let's not any of us stop at the mutual backscratching. Let's continue looking outward, attracting and building a new audience and sharing.
The Union stands as she NEVER stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed. . .
Boldly going where successful democratic movements have always gone -- To The People!
Back In The Building
Gifts from three kings
American Piano Duets