Medieval Multimedia

13th-century musical theater kicks off February for music lovers in Eugene

Multimedia performances are all the rage, and just wait until augmented reality tech allows even more multiples. But before shows that spiced up sounds with projected imagery, live painting and theater — before musicals, before operas and oratorios, even before J.S. Bach’s mighty Passions — there was The Play of Daniel.

On Saturday, Feb. 8, at Central Lutheran Church, one of America’s most venerable early music ensembles, the Boston Camerata, joins University of Oregon student performers in a free contemporary production of the eight-century-old French medieval musical theater piece, drawn from the Old Testament tale of a young Babylonian freeing himself from corrupt captivity, including the lions’ den.

Camerata director Anne Azéma, the French singer who’s so impressed audiences in previous performances here, melds poetry, music, movement, visual art and drama in a lively, multifaceted, modern production that drew raves on its 2014 premiere and is now touring the country.

Originally performed as part of wild post-Christmas celebrations, the irreverent liturgical drama uses various string and percussion instruments of the time, simple props and the music of the unknown ancient composer(s) who wrote it. Sung mostly in French and Latin, this new version focuses less on historical authenticity and more on providing contemporary entertainment to today’s audiences, just as its original authors did in 1230.

More early music is on tap at downtown’s Atrium Building on Saturday, Feb. 8, when Música Eugenia singer Alice Davenport joins ace lutenist Hideki Yamaya (who still occasionally graces Portland stages despite relocating to Connecticut last year) in words and music by John Dowland, Anthony Holborne and other Elizabethan masters, including some dude named Shakespeare. The free show commemorates last December’s passing of Música Eugenia founding member Raleigh Williams.

Another commemoration — one of many celebrations of Beethoven’s quarter-millennial birth year — involves, well, you. Eugene Concert Choir invites community members to an admission-by-donation workshop rehearsal and private run-through of the famous “Ode to Joy” finale of his Ninth Symphony and another Beethoven masterwork Saturday afternoon, Feb. 8, at First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive Street, led by ECC Artistic Director Diane Retallack. Contact ECC at 541–687–6865 or to RSVP and download a score.

On Feb. 16, one of the world’s finest chamber music ensembles, Trio con Brio Copenhagen, gives one of its characteristically spirited performances at the UO’s Beall Hall. The Danish and Korean threesome plays piano trios by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, as well as one of the 20th century’s most searing musical statements: Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1944 Piano Trio No. 2, which uses Jewish musical elements as part of the composer’s response to the horror of the then-recent discoveries of genocidal Nazi extermination camps. 

The UO’s Aasen-Hull Hall hosts another musical tragedy on, appropriately, Valentine’s Day (and on Feb. 16) when Orchestra Next joins UO Opera for famed director Peter Brook’s recent, stripped-down version of Georges Bizet’s tear-jerking tale of doomed love, La Tragédie De Carmen.

Both love and jazz are improvisations, so what better place to celebrate or deprecate that contrived greeting card non-occasion than The Jazz Station? Oregon’s own sterling singer Halie Loren and her quartet offer two sets of romantic tunes on Feb. 14. The next night, the station hosts one of Eugene’s jazz masters, saxophonist Joe Manis and his quartet, who’ll play jazz standards, originals and jazzed-up covers of contemporary rock and pop songs.

At The Shedd, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, acclaimed Israeli-American pianist Ehud Asherie plays music by George Gershwin, whose classic tunes inspired zillions of jazzy takes.

For a real winter wild card, check out Toronto’s Beyond the Pale quintet at Temple Beth Israel Monday, Feb. 17. Their danceable original fusion of acoustic klezmer and Balkan sounds (violin, bass, accordion, mandolin, clarinet) is so much fun that fans of jazz, folk, newgrass and even classical chamber music will find a peppy rhythm that’ll move them. 

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