Eugene Weekly : Music : 10.25.07


Ancient and Modern Sounds
The joys of rediscovery

Robert Kyr

It may seem surprising that many fans of postclassical music also embrace pre-Classical music. Leading composers such as Steve Reich, Arvo Part and John Tavener all look for inspiration to music from the 16th century and earlier, and use it to create compelling new sounds. Sometimes it seems as though the spirit of musical discovery happens at the extremes: brand new music and really old music — sounds that are so remote that they sound as strange as works composed last week. This Friday, you can hear some of the world’s finest rediscoverers of ancient, yet not creaky, music at the UO’s Beall Hall when singer Laurie Monahan joins Shira Kammen and UO prof Eric Mentzel in a concert of music by the greatest poet-composer of the 14th century, Guillaume de Machaut, other troubador songs and more — including a work by another early music influenced contemporary composer, the UO’s own Robert Kyr. Monahan, a UO alumna who’s now a visiting prof at the university, co-founded one of the great early music ensembles, Project Ars Nova, and starred on many recordings of medieval repertoire — including the famous series by Sequentia that helped resuscitate Hildegard of Bingen’s fantastic music. Mentzel was a star in the early music movement with Sequentia and other major ensembles long before the UO was lucky enough to land him; he’s also recorded much contemporary music. Kammen, a veteran of many of the finest early music groups (Ensembles Alcatraz and Project Ars Nova, Medieval Strings) who’s played with Sequentia, Hesperion XX, the Boston Camerata, The King’s Noyse and many others, has enchanted Eugene audiences often with her singing and mastery of many early instruments, especially the harp and vielle, a medieval fiddle. Machaut wrote some
of history’s finest love poems and was also a great musical innovator who was liberating rhythm half a millennium before jazz came along. A guest cellist will join the trio for Kyr’s new “Vocalise.”

Kyr’s work is gaining international attention, with symphonies recently premiered in Los Angeles and Portland, other works appearing around the U.S. and major events coming up in Europe and Japan. In fact, on Nov. 2, the dazzling Portland-based vocal ensemble Cappella Romana along with Kammen’s group Medieval Strings will premiere Kyr’s new work A Time for Life at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. Kyr, whose commitment to peace and nature long preceded the current antiwar and environmental discussions, also created the text for the work, which he drew from the Greek Orthodox Service for the Environment from Mount Athos and prayers and invocations of indigenous peoples, all on the theme of living in harmony with nature. Both of these concerts are important events for lovers of music old and new.

The UO’s wonderful world music series has a fine show of Japanese music at Gerlinger Hall Oct. 27 featuring koto master Mitsuki Dazai, who for years has brought the long zither to venues all around the Northwest and Japan, and Seattle’s Peter Hill, one of the great non-Japanese virtuosos of the haunting shakuhachi bamboo flute. And Sunday afternoon, Oct. 28, a pair of excellent pianists who’ve long performed at the UO will tickle two sets of ivories at the Newman Center, 1850 Emerald. Genevieve Mason and Mary Elizabeth Parker will play Debussy’s delightful “Petite Suite” and Faure’s music from “Dolly,” along with classics by Brahms and Dvorak.

There’s world music off campus, too, when Brazilian chanteuse Luciana Souza performs bossa nova versions of recent American standards at the Shedd. Based in New York for years, Souza has earned deserved plaudits for her work with the great composer Osvaldo Golijov (she starred in his great Passion According to St. Mark at the Bach Festival a few years ago) and with jazz greats. Now she’s turning to the bossa nova sounds of her homeland for new settings of tunes by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and others, along with some originals by her and her husband, Larry Klein. On disc, the results range from pleasantly breezy to perilously near easy listening, but she’s always worth hearing. And if that doesn’t sate your craving for Brazilian sounds, try our own Macaco Velho, which plays forro music and sambas at Luna on Nov. 3. The Shedd also hosts Country Joe McDonald’s Woody Guthrie tribute, featuring songs and writings by the great American songwriter, on Oct. 25, and the hot Nashville bluegrass family band Cherryholmes on Oct. 30.