Eugene Weekly : Music : 11.12.09

Revalia, Rebel and Reich
Domination, resistance and celebration
by Brett Campbell

From Woody Guthrie and his pre-decessors and descendants to the cellist who played Bach in the cross-fire scarred street in Sarajevo to the jingoistic C&W ballads (and the responses to them by progressives such as Steve Earle and Neil Young) during America’s unprovoked attack on Iraq, musicians with a social conscience have tried to use music for greater social purposes. During the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, the tiny, powerless Batlic states maintained a kind of psychological resistance through choral music, which gave that music a social significance it lacks in other modern cultures. Drawing on a long tradition of sacred and folk vocal music, choirs, particularly in Estonia, have maintained a vital creative connection to the community, and continue to be a powerful outlet for contemporary music. One of the finest of these — of all European choirs — is Revalia, who are performing at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall on Monday, Nov. 16. Based in Talinn and led by conductor Hirvo Surva, this remarkable group has become world famous for sterling performances of contemporary, classical and traditional music. Here, they’ll sing the soaring Renaissance polyphony of Palestrina plus contemporary sounds from the Baltics and Scandinavia, including the austerely beautiful music of the great contemporary Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

REBEL. Photo by Howard Goodman.

On Nov. 22 at Beall, New York’s splendid Baroque ensemble REBEL will play music of Spain and its dominions, which in that imperial era included Latin America and even Italy. Even colonialism couldn’t stop the back and forth influences between the dominant and subjugated cultures, so this music contains the vitality of folk as well as the polish of the long tradition of court and sacred sounds. REBEL is actually prounced with the accent on the second syllable, after its namesake, French Baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel, but the word’s common meaning applies, too, as their sound and approach bring a lot of the passion and expressiveness of rebel music of all kinds, including (attitudinally, at least) rock and roll. Unfortunately, that Beall concert — one of the year’s best chamber music shows — happens at the same time the University Symphony is playing at the EMU Ballroom, in a program that includes Debussy’s lyrical Petite Suite and an original Celtic Concerto composed by UO harp prof Laura Zaerr. 

There’s more new choral music at the UO on Nov. 17 at the new campus choir Sospiro’s free concert in room 163 of the music building. The group sings new music by UO grad composers. On Nov. 23, the valuable Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble plays a free concert of music by UO graduate students and other contemporary composers from Eugene, Chicago and beyond. ECCE shows are a great way to get a snapshot of the music being created by the next generation of composers from our own time and place. 

On Nov. 24, the Oregon Percussion Ensemble plays the music of the world’s greatest living composer, Steve Reich, who finally won a three-decade-overdue Pulitzer Prize last year. Now over 70 yet as vital and energetic as ever — he just wrote an electric rock piece for Bang on a Can — Reich helped restore classic and popular values of pulse, rhythmic vitality and melody that were shorn from postclassical by so many academic composers in the early 20th century. Along with other minimalist works by James Tenney and Paul Smadbeck, the concert includes Reich’s gorgeous, mesmerizing Six Marimbas and a pair of short, popular early works. Of the visually entrancing Clapping Music, in which two players clap their hands in patterns that slowly diverge and converge, “everyone’s got the instrument [hands], and everyone gets a kick out of it,” Reich told me Monday. Music for Pieces of Wood has been adopted by modern percussion groups who really wail away on big woodblocks — Reich said there’s even a YouTube video of the work being performed on juggled tennis balls. He described it as a pattern being built up one note at a time, “as if you have a full glass and an empty glass and you’re pouring beats from one to the other little by little, substituting beats for rests.” But he noted that it’s not just a “process” piece — “the pitches work to create interesting melodic patterns, and if it had other pitches, it wouldn’t work… the older  you get, you realize certain things are true, and one of them is, melody is king,” Reich said. 

Another important outlet for new local music, Cherry Blossom, holds an all ages vaudeville show that includes former Slug Queen Darcy du Ruz, Phenomenon Hip Hop Dance company, Agnieszka Laska Dancers, live music by Eugene’s Paul Safar played by Amadeus 6, some jazz piano and more. It’s at 4 pm at the UO’s Agate Hall on Nov. 15, and that same evening, the wonderful local Middle Eastern band Americanistan, plus guest dancers, plays another benefit concert, this one for singer Ann Armaiti, who needs help with medical expenses. She’ll be there opening the show with Solala Tower in devotional songs of Rumi.

Couple of recommended jazz shows this week: Carl Woideck’s Jazz Heritage Project plays music of the great postbop pianist Horace Silver at the Shedd on Nov. 12, and Hashem Assadullahi and his Quintet, with guest guitar master Don Latarski, play at Davis’s on Nov. 14.