Eugene Weekly : Music : 5.15.08

Fountains of Youth
Young ensembles bring tomorrow’s music to town

Earlier this year, the Seattle Chamber Players hosted a fabulous festival of new music called Icebreaker. Curated by New Yorker music writer Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise, and the wonderful composer and former Village Voice critic Kyle Gann, the festival featured many of today’s leading compositional voices. Among the younger composers, the pulsating music of New York’s Judd Greenstein stood out as the most accessible and poignant of the bunch. Greenstein directs New York’s much-praised NOW Ensemble, one of many young composer-performer groups who are revitalizing the field by forming their own ensembles, exchanging ideas, creating their own audiences. The music often draws as much on contemporary world and pop (from hip hop to electronica) music as classical sources. Listeners tend to wear jeans and T-shirts rather than suits. Venues are usually galleries, lofts, churches, even private homes rather than concert halls. This resurgence is exploding not just in music capitals like New York but all over the country, often in college towns.

Potter-Belmar Labs

Eugene is no exception. A few years ago, with the support of the UO’s progressive School of Music, a group of UO student composers founded the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, dedicated to playing their own work and that of other 20th and 21st century composers. ECCE director Scott Ordway recently heard NOW’s music and asked Greenstein whether the Eugene group (featuring flute, clarinet, electric guitar, bass and piano) might premiere some of the music written for NOW on the West Coast. Greenstein enthusiastically agreed. On May 28 at the UO’s Collier House, ECCE will play music by young composers from San Francisco, Ann Arbor and New York as well as three new commissions from Oregon composers Chris Prosser, Samuel Richards and Ben Krause. On May 30, at a private home at 50 Crest Drive, ECCE plays works composed by NOW’s Greenstein, Patrick Burke and Mark Dancigers, and more. This is a terrific opportunity to support young local creative musicians and to get a glimpse of the future of music from some of the country’s hottest young composers.

Another young UO composer/performer, Douglas Detrick, works on the jazzier side of the tracks, from classic styles to versions of music by Radiohead and Nick Drake to groovier compositions. On May 21, Detrick’s quintet performs in an intriguing audio-visual context at DIVA. The performance will be photographed as part of a workshop led by photography instructor John Spragens, who’s documented the San Francisco jazz scene. Also from that scene, the excellent trumpet-bass-percussion trio Panthelion, featuring Andrew Currier’s world music influenced jazz, alights at Cozmic Pizza on May 15.

DIVA hosts another original audio-visual treat on May 20, when San Antonio’s Potter-Belmar Labs brings its “collective fortune-telling experiment, presented as a multimedia performance of sound and moving image.” What happens is that the audience gets to choose (from examples provided by PBLers Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens) and arrange which video vignettes and audio samples are used in the performance, making each event a unique representation of that audience’s own associations. Both the music and imagery available on the PBL website suggest that this will be a fascinating multimedia experience.

One of Eugene’s perennially rich sources of new music is the Oregon Percussion Ensemble, which celebrates its 33rd anniversary (all under the strong direction of the redoubtable Charles Dowd) with a May 17 afternoon reunion concert at Beall Concert Hall. Many OPE alumni will return from teaching and performing positions all over the country to play music by UO alum Steve Owen, Daniel Levitan and a Brazilian inflected work by Daniel Sabanovich. OPE concerts are always some of the most fun and exciting musical events of the year, and this one should be really special.

As the academic year closes, other UO students will be performing programs at Beall featuring a considerable amount of 20th century music: various choral ensembles on May 22 in music of James MacMillan, Debussy, Bernstein and more; the Campus Band and Orchestra on May 28, and others.

Finally, yet another young musical reinventor, the award winning electric and acoustic guitarist Makana, brings his updated take on Hawaiian slack-key guitar to the WOW Hall on May 15. Blending rock, blues and other world music influences, Makana’s original music appeals to younger fans as well as traditional aficionados of that beautifully breezy slack-key style.