Asian Gaze

Oregon composers look west for musical inspiration

Emerson Quartet
Emerson Quartet

Oregon’s greatest composer, the late Lou Harrison, often explained the difference between the music written on the American East and West coasts. “Out there” — meaning the East Coast — “you think of Paris and Berlin as cultural centers. Here we think of Tokyo and Djakarta,” he said. “We have a very strong connection with Asia. This is Pacifica, that’s Atlantica. They’re different orientations. I don’t think that there is a composer in the West who is not aware of that.”

The tradition continues next Friday, Oct. 17, with Cascadia Composers’ appearance at First Christian Church in a concert devoted to new music by Oregon composers who look to Asia and the Middle East for musical inspiration. The excellent Eugene composer Paul Safar (the Oregon Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year) set his song cycle “The Warbler Sings” to haiku from the great Japanese poet Basho. Along with that Eugene premiere for soprano (the superb singer Nancy Wood), piano (Safar), double bass (Nathan Waddell) and trumpet (Dave Bender), the concert features the quintessential Japanese instrument, the koto zither, in a piece written by Portland’s finest living composer, Tomas Svoboda, and performed by Oregon virtuosa Mitsuki Dazai.

The program includes another world premiere by one of Eugene’s top composers, Mark Vigil, and songs from former UO music prof Derek Healey.

As always, there’s plenty of music by dead Europeans instead of live Oregonians available. On Sunday, Oct. 12, one America’s greatest string foursomes, the Emerson Quartet, returns to the University of Oregon’s ChamberMusic@Beall series with a new cellist, Paul Watkins from England’s Nash Ensemble, and quartets by Beethoven, Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich.

On Oct. 22, Beall hosts a 203rd birthday party for the great composer/pianist Franz Liszt with UO pianist Alexandre Dossin performing his Romantic song cycle Poetic and Religious Harmonies and more.

Beethoven and Shostakovich, or at least their music, are back in town Thursday, Oct. 16, when the Eugene Symphony brings back the well-regarded pianist Inon Barnatan to star in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, and the orchestra also performs one of the great 20th-century symphonies, Shostakovich’s epic 1953 Symphony No. 10, which may or may not contain a savage musical portrait of his nemesis, the Soviet dictator Stalin, may or may not depict the triumph of humanity over tyranny and probably does harbor a musical mash note to a student the composer lusted after. But all the attempts to decode Shostakovich shouldn’t overshadow the sheer musical beauty and power of this dark, dramatic Cold War masterpiece.

For something a little more modern and American, catch Andy Bean (guitar, banjo, mandolin, vocals) and Fuller Condon (upright bass, vocals) Oct. 22 at Sam Bond’s. Bean and Condon’s Two Man Gentlemen Band plays a different kind of old-time music from the Emersons and the ESO: Tin Pan Alley tunes, swinging dance numbers, Western swing, even early jazz. Finally, this Thursday, Oct.9, and Sunday, Oct. 12, brings the music of another pair of legends, jazz composer/pianist Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, who made his first live record at Las Vegas’s Sands Hotel in 1966. At The Shedd’s Jaqua concert hall, the Emerald City Jazz Kings will play music (including some of his greatest hits, like “One for My Baby”) from that album with Basie and other Sinatra gems of that period.

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