Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.5.09

Tomorrow’s Music Today
Oregon’s best all around town
by Brett Campbell

The UO School of Music’s biennial Music Today Festival deserves to happen every year — even every month. This year’s edition opens Feb. 15 with the Da Capo Chamber Players performing a true 20th century classic: Olivier Messiaen’s magnificently moving “Quartet for the End of Time,” which the composer (whose centenery was celebrated worldwide last year) wrote in a WWII prisoner-of-war camp. The program also includes music by the terrific Cambodian-born San Diego composer Chinary Ung, a work for flute and electronics by Dai Fujikura and festival director Robert Kyr’s “Ashes into Light,” drawn from the UO prof’s 10th symphony. 

Da Capo Chamber Players

The Da Capo players have been premiering new American music for three decades, but the festival also shows the strength of Oregon’s new music scene. On Feb. 16, our newest  contemporary music group, Beta Collide, will perform music by two of the last century’s most innovative composers, John Cage and Gyorgy Ligeti, plus a work by UO electronic music prof Jeff Stolet that uses flashlights, a dance piece and world premieres by Kyr and UO student star Douglas Detrick. On Feb. 17, Portland’s fabulous FearNoMusic (composed of members of the Oregon Symphony and other top musicians) will celebrate Oregon’s 150th anniversary with music by top Oregon composers David Schiff and Jack Gabel (who writes some of the region’s most appealing new music), plus local composers Bob Priest, Robert McBride, Portland State University prof Bonnie Miksch (who’s composed some deliciously atmospheric electronic sounds) and more. It also boasts Kyr’s newest work, “Variations for a New Day” on a traditional American sacred harp tune, which he completed on this Inauguration Day and which reflects both Oregon statehood and the hope emanating from the end of the eight year Republican reign of error and (we hope) a new era of enlightened, or at least Constitutional, leadership. On Feb. 18, Oregon Composers Forum and the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble play new music by the UO’s highly regarded student composers. On Feb. 20, UO percussion master Charles Dowd honors the centenary of American composer Elliott Carter by playing the composer’s eight solo timpani pieces. And on Feb. 21, harmonica virtuoso Joe Powers, pianist Naoko Aoki and tango dancers Liz Foster and Andrew Dugas will perform music by Argentine composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Gardel and others. 

There’s more sounds from distant lands at Cozmic Pizza Feb. 6. The Gypsy/klezmer/jazz outfit Chervona plays its mix of Balkan, Ukrainian, Russian and other Eastern European carnival dance music; the colorful Russian music/dance ensemble Barynya performs similar sounds on balalaikas and other folk instruments; the vocal ensemble Pava performs ancient Russian folk songs; and Kalinka dances to various strains of Slavic folk music. Dancing will be irresistible. And you can hear more eastern sounds when Kef plays the Slavic Festival on Feb. 7 at the Fairgrounds. 

There’s more world music at the Valentine’s Day benefit for Zimbabwe at World Flavors next Saturday, featuring music from Southern Africa by Vakasara Mbira, Kupembera Choir and other performers. Instead of succumbing to a fake holiday that plays on sentimentality and insecurity for the benefit of greeting card and candy companies and florists, why not hear some great music and do something that actually helps people in need?

Few seekers of musical innovation would turn first to bluegrass, yet one of last year’s most inventive albums came from bluegrass mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. As respected as he was for his work with Nickel Creek, no one could have expected The Blind Leaving the Blind, an astonishingly ambitious (harmonically, structurally, conceptually) four-movement suite from Punch, by Thile’s new all-star band, Punch Brothers. They’ll be at the Shedd Feb. 11 and shouldn’t be missed. Nor should Feb. 5’s Shedd tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, by UO prof and jazzman Carl Woideck and sextet, who’ll play the greatest and best selling jazz album, Davis and Bill Evans’s beautifully moody classic Kind of Blue, which starred the finest small group in jazz history, including Trane. The concert will also feature music from his solo breakthrough classic, Giant Steps. And on Feb. 10, the Shedd hosts New Orleans’ funk-jazz legends the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the rising star Trombone Shorty.