Eugene Weekly : Music : 11.26.09

’Tis the Season
Holiday sounds and more fill the Eug
by brett campbell

In 1946, an unknown composer from Boston gave the first big concert of his music in New York City, and touched off a bit of a revolution. Alan Hovhaness’s music didn’t sound much like anything else — neither the tuneful, popular “Americanist” sounds that Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and others were then plying, nor the atonal sounds brought over from Vienna by Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples, nor the backward gazing of the neo-Romantics. Instead, Hovhaness, inspired in part by his Armenian heritage, forsook complex modern harmonic devices, employing instead ancient modes, drones and other pre-Classical period musical techniques to forge a powerfully emotional, easily accessible and utterly unique sound world. Hovhaness’s innovations (and modal music in general) eventually influenced Lou Harrison’s modal, world-classical fusions, the minimalists such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, even jazz innovators like Miles Davis and John Coltrane; this alternative progressive path prevailed over the paragons of academic complexity and atonality. Hovhaness wound up living in Seattle, becoming one of the Northwest’s major musical voices until his death in 2000. His “Mysterious Mountain” and “Mt. St. Helens” symphonies proved popular, but he also composed prolifically for other settings. You can see the University Percussion Ensemble perform three of his chamber works, including the lovely Fantasy on Japanese Wood Prints, plus a Haydn string quartet transcribed for marimba sextet and more on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 6 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That’s one of several tasty UO music events. On Dec. 3, the school’s Collegium Musicum plays music from the rich cross-cultural milieu of 15th century Spain. The free concert includes both secular (even salacious) and sacred sounds by rarely heard composers, and it’s at the lovely Collier House, which can get crowded, so showing up well before the 6 pm start time will secure a better view. Also on the 3rd at the UO’s Knight Library, the new Infinity Saxophone Quartet, featuring UO prof Idit Shner and Cherry Poppin’ Daddy Jesse Cloninger, performs an impressively wide range of rep: French classical music, a 19th century German string quartet transcription, an American work portraying abstract painting and a funk/big band jazz number Another free concert on Dec. 1 offers the opportunity to hear new music by UO student composers for cello, piano, violin, guitar and more. The next evening, Portland-born trombonist John Moak, who’s played with many of the legends, from Aretha to Brubeck, is guest artist with Oregon Jazz Ensembles. On Dec. 5, four UO choirs sing music of contemporary composer Veljo Tormis, Francesco Durante, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Michael Haydn and more. And on Dec. 7-8 at First Christian Church (11th & Oak), the UO Repertoire Singers join the Oregon Mozart Players for a performance of Giovanni Pergolesi’s enchanting Magnificat. The OMP also play homegrown new music — UO prof Laura Zaerr’s new Celtic Concerto, with the composer as soloist— J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #4 and more in one of the best holiday shows in town.

A recent UO grad, Douglas Detrick, has been putting out some fine jazz and other improvised and composed music since he graduated. Now he’s turning to electronic music, joined by He Can Jog, the nom-de-laptop of Wisconsin-bred computer musician Erik Schoster, who makes quietly reflective sounds that drift along somewhat in the manner of Harold Budd’s ruminative sound tapestries. At the Jazz Station on Broadway, Dec. 6, each will play a solo set and then add a brass ensemble for the third act.

(Left to right) Lenny White, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke

One of the first jazzers to bring electronics (via the unmistakeable sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano) into the mix was keyboard wizard Chick Corea, when he replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’s legendary quintet in 1968 and then in his own 1970s fusion group, Return to Forever. Corea has explored plenty of territory since then, but now he’s going back to the future, enlisting RTF alums Stanley Clarke on bass and drummer Lenny White (though not guitarist Al DiMeola, the other mainstay of that RTF incarnation) in a trio that variously plays the old noodling fusoid rep but sometimes also ventures back into acoustic instruments and straightahead jazz. So surprises may await when they play the Shedd on Dec. 8.

The best way to get in the holiday spirit is to give to people in need, and there are several opportunities to do so while receiving the gift of great music. The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus free concert at First United Methodist Church at 13th and Olive on Dec. 5 encompasses Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas and other seasonal sounds. It also includes the premiere of composer in residence Robert Seeley’s Dona Nobis Pacem. It’s a benefit for Food For Lane County, so bring canned goods. At Cozmic Pizza on Dec. 6, the afternoon show benefits Churchill and Kennedy high school programs and includes the great Afro-Polynesian music of Paul Prince, Cascadia Rhythm Collective, John Satori and more. That evening, Cozmic offers some of the planet’s loveliest sounds in the Javanese percussion music of Gamelan Sari Pandhawa, in a benefit for Oregon Midwifery Council and Indonesian Birth Clinic Yayasan Bumi Sehat. ’Tis the season, y’all, so give.