Ancient Ideas, New Music

Classical music doesn’t have to be boring — usually that’s just the way it’s played

Calder Quartet
Calder Quartet

There’s nothing boring about ARCO-PDX, the Northwest classical music veterans who bring classical music into the 21st century by performing in venues where you can order a beer and not worry about clapping or chatting at the “wrong” moment. The group employs rock-show amplification and lighting effects, and the players memorize their repertoire — the better to connect with audiences instead of hiding behind music stands.

At 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 27, at the WOW Hall, ARCO — along with three Vivaldi concertos — will also rock melodic, often funky contemporary classical music by the nationally renowned Portland composer Kenji Bunch, young Eugene composer Addison Wong and ARCO founder and violinist Mike Hsu, whose excellent music appeals to classical and pop music fans alike.

Then at 3 pm Sunday, March 1, at Beall Hall, another young ensemble refreshing classical music with new sounds, L.A.’s Calder Quartet, plays classics by Beethoven and Janacek, plus Thomas Adès’ Arcadiana, a work by the composer long regarded as the great hope of British classical music. The movements of this moody 1994 quartet “evoke an image associated with ideas of the idyll, vanishing, vanished, or imaginary,” Ades wrote. “I love the way they play my music,” he told me about Calder a few years ago. “It seems to come really naturally.”

That same evening at 7:30 pm at Beall, the Oregon Wind Ensemble plays still more contemporary music: Scott McAllister’s Gone and Grunge Concerto, Austin composer Dan Welcher’s Zion, Frank Ticheli’s Postcard and more. On Tuesday, March 10, at 7:30 pm, Beall hosts another fine chamber ensemble named after a visual artist, the veteran Kandinsky Trio, playing one of Haydn’s sparkling piano trios, Dvorak’s ever-popular “Dumky” Trio and yet another contemporary work, American composer Richard Danielpour’s 2012 The Desert.

If you’ve enjoyed songs like “Scarborough Fair,” “Barbara Allen” and other timeless tunes, you can thank one Francis James Child, a 19th-century Harvard professor who tracked down and published several volumes of ancient folk ballads reaching back centuries. Rife with murder, ghosts, lust and more, the so-called Child ballads are periodically rediscovered by each new generation. In the latest of The Shedd’s new American Roots concerts, at 7:30 pm this Thursday, Feb. 26, curator and multi-instrumentalist Chico Schwall and a coterie of versatile musicians will play modern versions of evergreen Child classics.

The Shedd on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 pm hosts folk music from a different tradition, the Hawaiian acoustic music duo Hapa. For three decades running, Hapa has blended American folk and rock approaches with Polynesian rhythms and other ingredients. Hapa’s show heralds the second annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival March 6 at the Hult Center, which brings a half-dozen of today’s finest practitioners (LT Smooth, Stephen Inglis, Patrick Landeza, Ian O’Sullivan, Danny Carvalho, Chris Lau) of a music that uses detuned guitars (brought to the islands by Portuguese sailors long before Americans arrived) and warm vocals to summon the spirit of the islands.

At 7:30 and 9:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 28, at The Jazz Station, singers Siri Vik and Shirley Andress join Brian Haimbach in performing music by the greatest living musical theater composer, Stephen Sondheim, as part of the impressive series of community events leading up to next month’s Eugene Opera production of Sweeney Todd. And the next evening the Station hosts renowned jazz pianist Hal Galper, a must for jazz fans.

Vik returns to The Shedd March 6-8 with her veteran quartet to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edith Piaf with some of the great chanteuse’s hits and music by fellow French singers Charles Aznavour, Michel Legrand and Leo Ferré. On Wednesday, March 11, at 7:30 pm The Shedd hosts the great bassist and MacArthur “genius” grantee Edgar Meyer, one of Nashville’s most admired studio musicians who also composes contemporary classical music.

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