The cool sounds and sights of 2014

American Luminosity, the Harvard Glee Club, Irish pipes and more

London Haydn Quartet
London Haydn Quartet

Classical music people are always fretting about how to keep the genre from declining along with its aging audience by getting hip to the 21st century. That means, at a minimum, doing what popular music, dance and theater have always done, and what classical musicians themselves did until the last few generations: perform the music of their own time, i.e., now. But sometimes it also means rethinking the presentation to suit today’s more visually oriented culture. A cool concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall Friday, Jan. 10, does both. Veteran UO faculty string players Steven Pologe, Kathryn Lucktenberg and Holland Phillips join singer Laura Wayte and pianist Nathalie Fortin in songs by UO composer Nicole Portley in setting texts by the late world-renowned Seattle poet Denise Levertov; three songs composed by another accomplished Seattleite, composer Karen P. Thomas; original songs by another UO composer, Lawrence Wayte; a song cycle by New York composer Richard Pearson Thomas based on Walt Whitman poems, and contemporary arrangements of Appalachian songs.

Beyond the welcome chance to hear the music of our own time, this imaginative concert offers a visual dimension and an artistic collaboration: The stage will be dressed in original artwork created by Eugene artist Helen Liu based on the performed poems and texts. Another advantage to such a multidimensional concert: It can potentially attract a larger audience, comprising not just contemporary music fans but also poetry and visual arts lovers or anyone who’s interested in contemporary creativity.

You wouldn’t expect contemporary sounds to emerge from an outfit with a moniker like the Harvard Glee Club. But the 65 men who comprise America’s oldest college chorus (founded in 1858) definitely keep up with the times. Their concert Thursday, Jan. 9, at Beall includes not just works from the Renaissance (Josquin, Praetorius) through the Romantic era (Brahms, Mendelssohn), but also music by two of today’s most accomplished and ear-friendly composers, Nancy Galbraith and the UO’s Robert Kyr. They’re sharing the wonderfully rich program with the UO Chamber Choir, which ranges as far afield in space as the Hahvahds do in time, covering tunes from Ireland, Nigeria, Polynesia and the U.S.

The next highly recommended concert at Beall Jan. 12 seems, at first blush, old-fashioned by comparison, with a program consisting of three of the most familiar names in classical music: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. But the London Haydn Quartet’s performances will probably sound quite a bit different, and in many ways more authentic, than you’ve probably heard them before, because this historically informed ensemble plays on the kind of instruments (strings made of gut, different bows) and in the style the composers had in mind when they wrote these string quartets and Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Quintet, which adds one of the great clarinetists today, Eric Hoeprich, along with the very instrument that Mozart wrote the piece to showcase. The basset clarinet boasts, along with those big cute floppy ears, a few more notes on the lower end of the range than the modern instrument — the only way to hear what Mozart actually wrote is to hear it played with this instrument.

“The possibilities for articulation, dynamics and phrasing, as well as the blend and colourful sound world of the instruments bring out expressive qualities in the music that might otherwise be more difficult, or perhaps even impossible, to reach” on modern instruments, writes the Baltimore-born, London-based Hoeprich (who gave a stirring performance with Portland Baroque Orchestra last year) wrote in the liner notes to the group’s recording of Mozart’s masterpiece. And in the pristine, ideally intimate acoustics of Beall Hall, we’ll hear it — and Haydn and Beethoven — in all its glory.

Still another other wind instrument master comes to town Sunday, Jan. 5, at First United Methodist Church, for a Twelfth Night celebration with acclaimed traditional Irish musician Eliot Grasso playing the keening Uilleann pipes. The Cascade Slides trombone quartet leads carol singing by the audience, assuming it has any caroling left in it after the last few weeks.