Modern Music / Ancient Light: The Magic of Third Angle’s “Asian Music Now” Collaboration with the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Posted: April 27, 2013 in Experiences, On Music
Tags: , , , ,

First, my title: The title of this post is an inside joke that I guarantee no one could possible get. So, I’ll explain. When the Lan Su Chinese Garden first opened in Portland, Oregon, I made a photograph of the US Bank Tower reflected in the garden’s pool. That photo is hanging at home and it’s title is “Modern Tower / Ancient Light“. Now, considering that you probably don’t care, and that it’s very bad form to begin with a non sequitur, we’ll move on ūüôā (Although a case could be made that you can’t have a non sequitur if you don’t have a “sequitur” started yet, but… alas… I’ll shut up about it now).

Here is what I really want to say:

With last night’s absolutely magical Asian Music Now concert at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Third Angle New Music Ensemble had an unmitigated success. Assuming Thursday night included an equally amazing concert, I’d have to say that this past week should be designated National Third Angle week!

Artistic Director Ron Blessinger designed a magnificent program of 5 modern Chinese performances. Ron divided the audience into 5 groups, each of which attended a different one of the 5 performances; each in a different garden site. So, within the garden, there were 5 simultaneous performances.

I have a feeling that no matter where they started, a ¬†lot of audience members will say that their “order” was perfect. So, I don’t feel like I’m¬†especially¬†unique in feeling like mine¬†was the perfect starting place. That said, I do feel very lucky that my voyage through the garden began and ended with my favorite pieces.

Along the path that Patt and I were assigned we first heard Luanne Warner Katz perform Hu Xiao-ou’s solo vibraphone (and recorded material) piece “Dynamic Daily“; then Huang Ruo performing traditional Chinese folk songs; then Huang’s own composition “Book of the¬†Forgotten” played by Brian Quincey on Viola and Louis DeMartino on clarinet – both traversing the whole “room” because there were “just too many notes” for page turns.

From there we went to hear flutist Sarah Tiedmann and harpist Jennifer Craig in a performance of Zhou Long’s piece “Su“. Sarah gets high marks for simultaneously bending pitches and flutter tonguing; Jennifer taught us of the¬†existence¬†of some pretty cool extended harp techniques (including one sound that “you’re never supposed to make”). ūüôā

Finally, we ended our little adventure in the “Scholar’s Study”. Here, the extraordinary (that’s such an understatement, though!) pipa virtuoso (understated again) Min Xiao-Fen began with a pipa piece that would give the original pipa players of 200 BCE a massive coronary (but that’s what happens when John Cage – of blessed memory – influences your pipa technique!) Min’s second piece was on the Ruan and her combination of skill and nuance is enough to make anyone who has even half a heart weep in joy.

Now… The music was great. The concept was wonderful. But to really understand the magnitude of this concert you need to take a step back and think about this: It’s friggin’ Portland Oregon in April!!! You know what generally happens in Portland in April? Here’s a hint – “May¬†flower” come next. Right. Get it? It RAINS!!! But OH NOOOOO… Not when Third Angle is planning a show. Nope. SUN and the high 70’s. baby. THAT is how much ol’ Mamma Nature loves THIS ensemble.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe just luck. But, that’s my point. The Third Angle Artistic Director, Mr. Blessinger, and his partner, Executive Director Lisa Volle, did what they often do. They brought, to their board, a RISK. And, as THEY often do, the board took it on – again proving that risk taking pays off. They took a risk, like the ones Third Angle should be proud to often take; and they hit a home run. Seriously, who besides Third Angle would have the guts to invite a bunch of people to stroll around an outdoor garden, to hear 5 different performances, on 2 different evenings, in April in Portland Oregon?¬†Seriously.

Like I said, the risk paid off. ¬†Near 80 degree weather like this simply doesn’t happen here in April. Either some God or other really loves Lisa and Ron or their organization is really good at understanding the value of taking and managing risk. Perhaps both. After all, what God wouldn’t love Lisa and Ron? As for me, I’ll side with the rationalists and set the God-love thing aside for a moment. To me, this amazing evening was clearly the result of a profound willingness to take risks, a team that knows how to manage them, and a pervasive nuanced aesthetic that makes the ensemble what it is.

I’m proud to be able to work with Third Angle. More than that, I’m proud of the thing called “Third Angle”.

Anticipating next season already. Xièxiè, Xièxiè, Xièxiè!

  1. Steve, I just now saw this posted on Facebook. You’ve captured it all beautifully. Thank you!

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