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Pop Go the Classics

A week of everything from Renaissance to swing and beyond
Pink Martini
Pink Martini

Fleeing the centimeters of snow that turned what was once America’s hipster capital into an ice-bound hell, a pair of Portland bands brings music that appeals to fans of both pop and classical sounds.

Pink Martini returns to the Hult Center on Saturday, Feb. 4, with music from their long-awaited album, Je dis oui!, and more. They’ll be missing the bevy of famous guest artists (e.g. Rufus Wainwright) who decorated the band’s bubbly ninth recording, not to mention occasional co-lead singer Storm Large (who’s maintained her own solo career), but the substitutes are pretty good: original lead singer China Forbes and our own Eugene Symphony. Classically trained Martini founder-pianist-bandleader Thomas Lauderdale, who sits on the board of the Oregon Symphony, works often with orchestras, which is why the band’s many orchestral collaborations sound so natural.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the symphony accompanies another guest classical pianist, Andrew von Oeyen, who’ll star in an American classical masterwork: Samuel Barber’s ruggedly romantic, Pulitzer Prize-winning 1962 piano concerto. The other guest: emerging young conductor Ryan McAdams, the second of three candidates auditioning for the orchestra’s music director job. He’ll also lead the band through Brahms’s first symphony and Mozart’s dramatic overture to his opera Don Giovanni.

Another band of classically trained, pop-oriented Portlanders performs the same night as Pink Martini, Feb. 4, at Whirled Pies. ARCO-PDX performs contemporary and classical music with the charisma, amplification, lighting and other stage effects we’re used to at rock shows. This time, they’re playing music by Philip Glass, the fabulously subversive and entertaining contemporary Dutch composer Jakob TV, and the rising Portland composer Scott Anthony Shell, plus some George named Handel, who was making audiences swoon with his hooky melodies centuries ago.

 More contemporary classical music by Northwest composers, performed in a decidedly non-classical setting, highlights this month’s Songs@Tsunami show Saturday, Jan. 28, at Tsunami Books. Eugene singer Laura Wayte’s non-stuffy recital series features Eugene Opera soprano Tess Altiveros and pianist Elisabeth Ellis singing new songs by Northwest composers Thomas Joyce and Emerson Eads. They’ll also sing Ravel’s ravishing Five Greek Songs, Schumann’s A Woman’s Love and Life and music by 20th-century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

Two very different string quintets hit town next week. On Jan. 29, the superb Berlin-based English viol consort Phantasm plays music by the two greatest composers of the English Renaissance, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, plus music by J.S. Bach and Mozart, in a concert at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. A viol consort uses the half-millennium-old stringed instruments that preceded modern violins and cellos. When played by historically informed specialists like these, the instruments can produce some of the most emotionally affecting music you’ll ever hear. There’s more early music at the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on Wednesday, Feb. 1, when UO musicians play works by Renaissance masters Josquin Desprez and Carlo Gesualdo, Baroque titans Monteverdi and Purcell, and J.S. Bach. 

Later Wednesday night at the Shedd, Chico Schwall’s American String Band plays American folk classics dating from mid 19th century to the end of the 20th. You might have heard “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Wildwood Flower” in covers by Bob Wills and the Carter Family, but the rest of the program is rarely heard these days, providing a wonderful glimpse into the music that inspired David Grisman, the Band, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and others. 

Also at The Shedd this Friday, Jan. 27, you can hear another American classic: Best-selling trumpeter-composer-record producer-philanthropist Herb Alpert and his wife and fellow Grammy winner Lani Hall, former lead singer of Brasil ’66, play Brazilian tunes, jazz and, of course, shagadelic Tijuana Brass.