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Cello, Plugged and More Spring Concerts

Zoe Keating
Zoe Keating

Lots of musicians claim the “indie” label, but Zoe Keating, who performs May 5 at The Shedd, has blazed trails for contemporary composer/performers who seek to chart their own paths toward sustainable creative satisfaction. The irony is that for a musician who’s made her reputation by doing it all on her own, the solo cellist’s musical track was initially derailed by, of all things, stage fright. Her freakouts made a career as a classical performer, in which fidelity to every note and other score marking is essential, out of the question. Just out of college in the mid ‘90s, Keating began working on software interfaces in Silicon Valley while also playing cello in rock bands. Her two interests converged when she devised the now-common foot-pedal looping technique. This enabled her to play a live cello track, set it on repeat, play another and then layer that on top of the first and so on, until she could achieve orchestral effects (including an arrangement of the slow movement from Beethoven’s Symphony #7) with just a plugged-in cello, computer and pedal.

Keating played in cello ensembles such as Rasputina and helped found what became the Portland Cello Project. The title of her new album, Into the Trees, reflects her recent move to a cabin in the woods, and the record itself achieves new levels of depth and variety despite Keating’s seemingly limiting formula. While exploiting the cello’s rich, dark acoustics, Keating also deftly deploys her electronics — and in person she exhibits no trace of the stage fright that once jeopardized her musical future.

Saturday, April 28, The Shedd hosts two of today’s leading Hawaiian musicians, Keola Beamer and Raiatea Helm. Revered for four decades as one of the masters of the islands’ mesmerizing slack-key guitar style (he wrote the first textbook on it), the Big Island-born Beamer has also forged fruitful fusions of traditional Hawaiian and contemporary pop sounds. Still in her 20s, Beamer’s niece, the Moloka’i-born Helm, has already garnered many awards, a Grammy nomination and wide acclaim for her floating soprano voice and emotionally engaging performances. This year, the two joined forces for a breezy, gentle self-titled collaborative album, which includes covers of John Lennon and Sandy Denny. 

The Shedd brings another strong combination of talents on May 9, when jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette celebrates his 70th birthday tour with help from his former Miles Davis bandmate Chick Corea on keyboards and Corea’s Return to Forever bandmate Stanley Clarke on bass. Since his Davis days, the Chicago-born DeJohnette has lifted his sticks with many of jazz’s most venerated legends, composed film and TV scores, made dozens of albums and picked up a Grammy. This is an all-star band that no jazz fan should miss.

Classical fans can catch one of the stars of the genre Thursday, April 26, when renowned violinist Midori Goto joins the Eugene Symphony to play Jean Sibelius’s brooding Violin Concerto, and the Eugene Youth Symphony on April 28, both at the Hult. 

Another distinguished artist in residence this month is the terrific French early music soprano Anne Azéma, who’s completing a visiting professorship residency at the UO. Along with presenting public lectures and student workshops Friday, April 27, Azema joins vielle player Shira Kammen for their fourth performance at Beall Hall. The pair will play music from medieval France, including songs about spring fever, romance and just plain lust.

There’s more wonderful Baroque music onstage Sunday, May 6, at First United Methodist Church, when Baroque Northwest (comprising veteran Portland Baroque cellist Max Fuller, Seattle lutenist and Baroque guitarist August Dennard, Eugene organist Julia Brown and flutist Kim Pineda) play 18th century court music from Paris, Berlin and Dresden.

Back at the UO, you can experience a smorgasboard of young Duck musical talent May 3 at the emerging artist show at Beall Hall, featuring the school’s finest young musicians and dancers. And another free concert May 6 at Aasen-Hull Hall brings contemporary works by young Northwest composers, courtesy of the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. Finally, the UO music profs in the Oregon String Quartet continue with the latest complete Beethoven string quartet cycle May 9 at Beall Hall. 

Classical fans can also celebrate the return of former Oregon Mozart Players artistic director Glen Cortese at the Hult on May 5, when the New York-based conductor brings a new piece: a chamber orchestra version of his Songs for All Seasons concert, featuring soprano Emily Johnson

Finally, let’s extend a warm welcome to the city’s newest musical institution Unity Arts Cooperative, whose May 4 concert at Unity of the Valley church brings pianist Scott Cossu along with jazz singer Halie Loren’s trio, and more.