Eugene Weekly : Music : 8.5.10

Words and Music
From the non-twee to the Baroque
by Brett Campbell

Music festivals tend to focus on, er, the music, for some reason, but this summer’s Oregon Festival of American Music shines the spotlight on the smart, stirring lyrics that also contributed to the lasting appeal of America’s pre-rock pop culture masterpieces. The festival’s final week kicks off Thursday afternoon with OFAM vet Ian Whitcomb (on ukulele and vocals) covering pre-WWII American songs peppered with literary references, featuring word-playful tunes by Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin (including an un-notated Berlin lyric that Whitcomb set to music), the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser and lesser known songwriters. In the evening concert, also at the Shedd, music director Ken Peplowski leads Whitcomb and the OFAM band though songs from some of Walt Disney’s classic animated films, including “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Someday My Prince will Come” and more from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and others. Anyone who fears tweeness should remember that no less than John Coltrane and Miles Davis turned “Someday My Prince” into a jazz classic. 

On Friday afternoon, the festival continues this summer’s Shakespeare theme with perhaps the best known American adaptation of the Bard: Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim’s immortal West Side Story. Peplowski leads the OFAM jazzers in concert versions of most of the 1957 musical’s sturdy tunes. The festival’s music and words theme culminates in Saturday night’s closing concert, which features a half dozen singers essaying songs mentioned in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald (much influenced by pop culture), plus interpolated readings, and tunes drawn from the works of the great short story writers John O’Hara, whose 1930s New Yorker tales spawned Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart’s 1940 musical Pal Joey, and Damon Runyan, whose 1932 story collection Guys and Dolls formed the basis of Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical. This weekend also offers the last chances to catch the festival’s new productions of the Shrew-ish Shakespearean musical Kiss Me Kate (Thursday night) and the rarely revived The Boys from Syracuse (Thursday night and Saturday matinee); see reviews in this issue. 

Loveness Wesa of the Bantus Band

Another great annual Northwest music festival happens in Corvallis this year. The Zimbabwean Music Festival, or Zimfest, brings Zimbabwean music and dance teachers to spread the word about one of the planet’s richest musical treasures. Eugeneans can get an early glimpse of the action on Saturday, Aug. 14, when Cozmic Pizza hosts the Bantus Band, a sort of all-star aggregation drawn from diverse southern African ethnic groups that share linguistic and musical roots. Whether or not you can make it over to Beaverland Aug. 20-22 for Zimfest’s workshops and concerts at Oregon State, this concert is highly recommended.

This summer’s Oregon Bach Festival may have ended along with the winter that just wouldn’t go away, but you can still hear wonderful Baroque music next Friday, Aug. 13, at Central Lutheran Church (18th and Potter). The concert focuses on the Italian music of the early 17th century featuring the cornetto, an archaic but still potent cross between a recorder and a trumpet that was already fading by the time the great Baroque composers Bach, Handel, Vivaldi et al came along. So this concert by Ensemble Primo Seicento (composed of early music experts Doug Sears, Sarah Viens, Margret Gries and Jim Rich on voice, organ, harpsichord and that predecessor of the bassoon, the fagot) offers a rare and valuable opportunity to hear some vanished sounds by Frescobaldi, Rossi, Barbara Strozzi and other Italian composers of the period. Bring a donation for FOOD for Lane County. 

New York pianist Louis Landon, who’s gained attention from the internet radio solo piano show Whisperings, returns to Oregon Thursday, Aug. 5, for a house concert with Whisperings founder David Nevue in Florence (call 541-999-9720 for reservations). The following day, Friday, Aug. 6, the pair plays with fellow pianists Neil Patton and the promising composer Rebecca Oswald at Emerald Baptist Church, 631 East 19th Ave. Paul Safar and Nancy Wood, the composer/pianist and singer of Cherry Blossom Arts, will play classical and jazz songs by Mozart, Debussy, Schubert and more, including Safar originals, in a free show with clarinetist Ben Farrell at the Granary on Aug. 15.