March 30, 2014, 05:44 AM posted by Maria Choban

"Getting a (wood) stove to work isn't like playing the piano, it takes skill."

This Can Be YOU!
March 25, 2014, 05:55 AM posted by Maria Choban

"absolutely the best classical music concert of the season so far" Oregon ArtsWatch, March 21, 2013

Here's a taste of what Jana Hanchett wrote regarding the tribute concert to Tomas Svoboda MC Hammered Klavier and friends presented on March 15, 2014.

"Tomas Svoboda's sound is like no other sound you'll hear in classical music," proclaimed Maria Choban from the stage of Portland's Community Music Center last Saturday, her face glowing with electric energy. "It's trashy and thrashing and so fuckin' loud! Tomas Svoboda understands everyday life. He's not esoteric. He's not academic. He's really rock and roll!" The full-house audience, over 150 people, whooped approvingly after every piece and gave Choban's piano transcription of Storm Session, originally meant for electric guitar and electric bass, a full minute's worth of applause. Here's what made the evening of March 15 absolutely the best classical music concert of the season so far:

Hanchett's dissection of the concert and what made it so successful is nothing I haven't articulated and shared (nagged y'all!) on this blog after every MCHK concert.

BUT, like every parent or best friend or spouse knows, it always sounds better coming from someone else! So I'm letting Hanchett do the debriefing this time. Click HERE! and scroll one-third of the way down until you get to the subheading "A Storm of Svoboda" and start reading the entire article and the keys to success in your own concerts!

March 19, 2014, 10:17 AM posted by Maria Choban

My 5 year old student came racing in for his weekly lesson yesterday screaming "I LOVED YOUR SONGS!!!!" He was in the audience at "Storm Session" the concert in tribute to Tomas Svoboda that I presented on March 15 - four days ago. His daddy, who is also learning to play piano said "This is exactly the kind of classical concert I've always wanted to see!"

But the greatest part . . . . .

I replied to the 5 year old "Next time you're sitting on the stage!" (we put overflow parking on the stage this year :-) "In fact" I continued, "You're sitting with ME on the piano bench!"

And he thoughtfully and ebulliently responded with really wide eyes "Can I bring my drum and play it?"

Do they get any cuter than this?!?

photo by Leo Daedalus

March 18, 2014, 03:13 PM posted by Maria Choban

1. Nancy Wood staring at the ceiling of The Old Church, trying to follow the bird that got away, singing Jeff Winslow's Cat Tale with Jeff Winslow at the piano. I knew I was in for something NOT art-song-like when they both came out sporting t-shirts with "Who's Your Kitty?" on them, with Cheshire cats grinning at us!

2. Chris Allen intoning words about Bill Colvig, penned by his life and work partner of 33 years, Lou Harrison. The one-two punch delivered by Mario Diaz tenderly playing For Bill and Me on guitar, written by Lou Harrison. I cried as did many in the audience. This was Allen's stage debut and he won the "audition" for the gig at the dress rehearsal 2 hours earlier when I asked him to read the script and make me cry - which he obligingly did.

3. Tomas Svoboda trying to one-up me with "No, YOU Rock!" I won because he was laughing too hard after we went back and forth 23 times. not kidding!

March 13, 2014, 09:28 PM posted by Maria Choban

"Choban is the Joan Jett of Portland's classical music scene: aggressive, passionate, uncompromising."

Read the whole of The Oregonian's David Stabler's preview of Storm Session: The Svoboda Project 2

Read my own very hot story with explosive comments on Oregon ArtsWatch here!

And go here to read how
MC Hammered Klavier is going to celebrate 75 years of Tomas Svoboda!

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!

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!


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)
Storm Session:
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)
The Mousai:
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

Hey, Tarantino!!!
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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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!!!


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