Top-notch sounds in smaller spaces
by Brett Campbell
|Medeski Martin & Wood
Eugene may not have the resources to support world class large, year round classical music institutions, but we get more than our share of top notch smaller-scale sounds, thanks in part to the UO’s music school and its acoustically superb Beall Concert Hall, where, on Feb. 23, the UO’s Oregon String Quartet with guest violist Lillie Wells plays one of the absolute gems in all of chamber music: Mozart’s Viola Quintet K. 516. Although it’s as beautiful as any of his creations, you don’t hear Mozart’s quintets nearly as often as the quartets or piano concerti because the world has a lot of quartets and orchestras but few regular string fivesomes. Former UO piano prof Victor Steinhardt augments the ensemble in another chamber classic: Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, Op. 81. Also at Beall, on Feb. 25, student chamber musicians will play Claude Debussy’s luminous String Quartet, three of Haydn’s sweet little flute trios, a piquant trio by Francis Poulenc and music by Saint-Saens, Addinsell and Reicha. On Feb. 27, the always-exciting Oregon Percussion Ensemble performs there. And speaking of percussion, on March 1, Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble rings Beall with one of the era’s landmarks in that field: contemporary Los Angeles composer William Craft’s powerful Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra.
Beall isn’t the only local home for excellent chamber music. On Feb. 21, United Lutheran Church (2230 Washington St.) hosts the Oregon Mozart Players’ always-scrumptious Chamber Music and Chocolate concert, which includes one of Mozart’s tasty serenades arranged for small ensemble, Prokofiev’s equally enticing Quintet in g minor, a jazzy piece by Morton Gould and the world premiere of Michael McGee’s Desert. On Feb. 24, the Schnitzer Museum of Art presents UO student chamber ensembles in some rarely heard repertoire, including saxophone quartets, Three Short Stories by former Portlander Gernot Wolfgang and a new piece for bassoon and flute by Ella Anderson. And on Feb. 22 over in Springfield’s Wildish Theater, Chamber Music Amici performs Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet, music by Charles Loeffler and settings of poems by Yeats and Blake by Joyce Hope Suskind and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Why should “chamber music” include only Euro-classical sounds? At 3 pm on Feb. 21, the Tahei Ensemble, which plays music on Western instruments inspired by East Asian musical traditions, makes its UO debut in the music building’s Aasen-Hull Hall, with works for mixed ensemble and electronic conductor, a piece for sax and percussion ensemble inspired by Chinese wind ensembles, a Japanese folk song arranged for flugelhorn and the banjo-like shamisen and more. There’s more world chamber music at Beall on Feb. 19, when the accomplished Oregon koto player Mitsuki Dazai (profiled last week on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Art Beat show) and New York based shakuhachi (bamboo flute) master James Nyoraku Schlefer performing traditional and contemporary Japanese music for two of the planet’s most haunting instruments.
Another superlative duo, the award-winning Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and American guitarist Dennis Cahill, plays contemporary Celtic chamber music at the Shedd on Feb. 18. While they’re fully capable of the full range of traditional sounds, including dance forms, the pair’s lustrous new album, Welcome Here Again, really excels in wistful, melancholy yet never sentimental balladry — ideal accompaniment for dark winter evenings, and a treat for fans of folk, world, jazz — any kind of chamber music.
What is small combo jazz anyway but improvised chamber music that swings? On keyboards, bass and drum, Medeski Martin & Wood have created a loping, funky improv music that appeals to rock and jam band fans as much to jazz fusioneers. On Feb. 25, the Brooklyn-based trio celebrates the release of its revelatory new box set that collects the three recent, productively experimental Radiolarians releases, a remix disc, a DVD — and a live CD that shows that the band can still churn out a powerful, danceable groove even when exploring its farthest-out material. Another recommendable small-group jazz show: Seattle-gone-NYC trumpeter Josh Deutsch and friends at Luckey’s on Feb. 28.
If all these small-scale sounds just aren’t big enough for you, head over to the city’s largest venue on Saturday, Feb. 27, to hear its biggest chorus, the Eugene Concert Choir, sing one of classical music’s jumbo hits: Brahms’s consoling German Requiem.