Posts Tagged ‘Third Angle Ensemble’

Sunday, June 21, 2015 – 12:00pm – 10:00pm
The Winter Garden at Brookfield Place

“Portland, Oregon phenomenons Third Angle New Music bring new reverberations from young innovators including the New York premiere of Quartz by Australian composer Julian Day and a world premiere by LJ White”

Oregon New Music lovers… Non-Oregon New Music lovers… Fans of Matthew Dickman… Fans of Michael Dickman… Have you ever thought it would be cool to go to New York for the annual Bang On A Can Marathon? Well… the time has come!

Now you have the chance to join some really amazing Oregonian musicians, poets, and new music groupies as Lisa Volle, Ron Blessinger, and the awesome folks from Third Angle New Music head to The Big Apple for Third Angle’s first ever opportunity to play the marathon!

But wait! There’s more! The piece that we have commissioned for the event is based on poems by Matthew and Michael Dickman and we’re takin’ the lads with us. This is an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY to support Third Angle, BOAC, and the Dickman twins all at once. For information on how you can join Team 3A in NYC, send me an email.

Can’t go to NY but still want to make some Oregonian dreams come true? Just want to help a couple wonderful poets get to THE CITY? Fear not! There are myriad opportunities to help financially.Email and I’ll hook you up with a lovely lady who’d love to find a way for you to help.

Seriously… come with us or help how you can. The Third Angle New Music Ensemble Board will love ya for it!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU THIRD ANGLE! The “Made in Italy” concert, in conjunction with the Portland Art Museum is one of my top 3 favorite shows you have ever done. For the record, the other two were Rothko Chapel (also with PAM), and China Music Now (with the Portland Chinese Garden). This time, though, I learned a lot as well as listening to what I already love.

The evening began with one of several pieces I’ve never heard, Dallapiccola’s 1951 piece for violin and piano called “Tartiniana II,”  , The piece is a tribute to Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini. It was programmed first as a sort of bridge between the 20th century and the long history of Italian art music. Personally, this was the piece I found least interesting but I’m not sure i could have selected a better piece to bridge the centuries and I totally get why Ron chose it.

For me, the evening just got more and more interesting as the show continued.

I was most excited to hear the 3rd piece, Berio’s lovely tribute to Martin Luther King, “O King”. It seems to me that Berio is terribly under-performed since his passing in 2003. I’m biased about this piece for 2 reasons. First, it is a chamber setting of music that also serves as the second movement of Berio’s “Synphonia” which I think is one of most beautiful things to ever come out of the late 20th century. Second, Berio is one of the few 20th century composers who I deeply admire but who I was never able to meet. I came close once, when my uncle Mel and aunt Joey took me to see the LA Philharmonic perform several of his works, including my favorite Berio piece “Linea”, conducted by Berio himself. So, basically, I went into the evening expecting to grin for 5 minutes while “O King” was performed; and grin I did.

Backing up a step, I’ll also mention a really amazing piece that I’ve not heard since my college days in the B304 electronic music studio: Luigi Nono’s “La Fabbrica Illuminata,” This is a piece for tape and voice that comes out the electro-acoustic and musicque concrete movements of the 50’s and 60’s. It was realized in 1964 as a protest against Italian factory working conditions. Nono is one of the guys we got to study, moment by moment in Barry Schrader’s electronic music classes because Nono was one of the first composers to create electronic music. Before there was such a thing as 5.1 and 7.2 multichannel audio systems, we used to create music for 4 track tape. Nono’s tape was made from the sounds of factory worked workers that were electronically processed. The recorded material was played back through a very solid 4-channel sound system that reminded me exactly of the old Quad recordings that we used to make. If enough time has now passed that one can call electro-acoustic music “authentic” then this performance surely was.

Even though I was excited to again hear Berio and Nono performed live, it was the 3 final pieces that really made this an extra special evening for me. This is because I found something to adore in each of 3 works whose composers I knew noting at all about. The 3 pieces were “Ganimede”, a 1986 solo viola piece by Fausto Romitelli; Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Ultime Rose”, for voice, cello, and piano, from 1981; and a 2010 piece called “Gr…” for solo bass flute by Oscar Bianchi. Each of these compositions demonstrated the extraordinary innovation that only Third Angle has to guts to include in it’s programming. Romitelli gave Charles Noble a chance to use almost every extended string technique in existence. Bianchi did much the same for the bass flute. And, Sciarrino, surprised me with an extremely beautiful use of cello, some really well timed vocal cues from the piano, and a third reason to respect any vocalist with the guts to tackle contemporary music.

I especially want to send our some kudos with respect to my last statement. In the cases of the Nono piece, the Berio piece, and the Sciarrino piece, I was tremendously impressed by Soprano Catherine Olson. Although a soprano, not a mezzo like the genius I’m about to mention, Ms. Olson’s body language, and to some extent her vocal technique, reminded me of the great interpreter of Berio and Maderna, the wonderful Cathy Berberian. This might be my imagination since Berberian died when I was just out of college, but I could see Ms. Olson singing Berio’s “Circles” and I’d go to hear her do so in a nanosecond!

Mentioning Berio’s great muse, Cathy Berberian, brings me to one last thought. You have perhaps noticed that I have said nothing but positive things about this concert. There is really nothing bad to say. So, I’ll leave you with my one issue. Noticeably absent from this program was the music of Bruno Maderna. I always feel like Maderna is noticeably absent whenever Berio stands alone as Italy’s preeminent contemporary composer. So, if I could add anything to a nearly perfect concert, it would be one extra piece representing the work of Maderna. But, there is only so much one can handle of cool contemporary chamber music. So…. I’m letting it slide and just going to say….

Bravissimo 3A!

Here is a quick, and somewhat different type of, post. I’ve tossed a few photos into posts now and then, but I don’t generally use my blog as a way to share my art photographs. If you want to see my work, you can see a lot of it on Flickr and on my NAPP portfolio at In this case, though, I’m looking for some feedback.

Below is an image of the Pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen on her Ruan (or Moon Guitar). I shot this on my Nikon D5100 at ISO 1600 and I finished it in Photoshop CS5 with Silver EFEX Pro 2. Using a mask on the Silver EFEX layer and a low opacity brush I brought back some of the color from the original image into the face, arm, and instrument body to give the final image the look of a “back in the darkroom days” hand colored image. I’m not typically one for bringing back color into a my finished B&Ws. So, I’d love some comments on how this one worked. I’m very pleased but I’d love to know what other folks think.


Min Xiao-Fen and her Ruan (Print Final)-1

This photograph is (c)2013 The Bilow Group / Dandylines Inc. (all rights reserved). Permission to use this image is not granted without prior approval.

Whatever you think of this image, and whatever comments you’d like to share, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave those comments here on WordPress. And, for the record, prints of any of my musician images are for sale with 20% of the proceeds going to the presenting organization. So, for example, 20% of the selling price of a print of this image would go to the Third Angle New Music Ensemble. So email me if interested.

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 🙂 (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”). 🙂

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!

I need to take a minute to thank my friend, the composer Nicholas Chase, for explaining to me how Third Angle got SQ2 down to 4 hours. While I could see the computer display of the score from my seat, and I thought it was a great idea, I could not actually always read the score. That’s the downside of bad eyes. Nick could; and he told me that two basic performance elements affected the duration of the piece. One, they did not perform all the repeats; two they counted beats almost robotically for at least 2 hours and in doing so limited the possibility of the durational extension that comes from asynchronous counting.

I tend to agree with what Nick told me about the repeat issue when, in his email to me, he said: “Feldman added repeats to create proportion within a piece, they weren’t mindlessly added to generate scale. It’s a common mistake of groups unfamiliar with Feldman’s *methods* (even if they’re familiar with his music) to believe that the repeats are superficial and not an integral part of the whole work….” In other words, skipping repeats isn’t really true to Feldman’s intent. I agree with that but I stand behind my contention that, while not the most “true-to-Morty” SQ2 performance, it was a very strong performance of a very difficult work. Personally, I hope that Third Angle will ask for feedback from some of the Feldman experts in their audience and will take what they have learned and parlay it into a world-class performance. I think they have the capacity to do that and I hope this is not their last attempt.

Now, as for the second Feldman performance, I have almost nothing bad to say. What I do want to mention is that I don’t think that a 5 minute excerpt of a 4 – 6 hour piece is effective. I would rather have heard one of Feldman’s early short pieces than an excerpt of SQ2. We used to have these crazed intellectual discussions, when Phil Glass started writing short pieces like those on “Glasssworks”, about whether minimalism could work in short duration pieces. For 35 years my answer has been “no” and I think that contention applies to Morty’s long pieces too. The POINT of SQ2 is it’s SCALE. In 5 minutes, you can’t get that point. With that minor opinion stated, I will say that the “Rothko Chapel” concert was a stunning event. If the biggest complaint I have is that I got to hear 5 minutes of SQ2, you should be PROUD. THAT is how I hope that the Third Angle Ensemble, The Resonance Ensemble, and The Portland Art Museum all feel. It was a GREAT night.

I told you that the “Rothko Chapel” performance was unique and I promised to tell you why. Here it is:

Third Angle subtitled their concert “a conversation in words and music”. Their use of “words” was fabulous. Instead of simply performing 8 pieces of music, the concert couched all 8 works in the context of the 1966 – 67 Cage/Feldman “Radio Happenings” from WBAI New York. In between each piece of music they played excerpts of the radio broadcasts of Cage and Feldman in conversation. Then the music reflected some aspect of what was said.  For example, prior to performing Webern’s “Sechs Bagatellen” was an excerpt of Cage and Feldman discussing how they both first experienced that piece (so overwhelmed that they did not want to hear the remainder of the concert). That piece began the program and what followed were Cage’s “Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard” and “Imaginary Landscape #4” (that wacky piece for 12 radios); “Violist Piece #1” and part 1 of “Burdocks” by Christian Wolff; and three examples of Morty’s music – one five-minute excerpt from SQ2,” Projection 4″ for violin and vibes, and the glorious “Rothko Chapel”. All of the performances were well executed and, I have to say, “Rothko Chapel” was a fine performance that was true to Feldman’s aesthetic. The vocalists were wonderful. They all came from a group called the “Resonance Ensemble”, a new ensemble lead by Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon. This is a complete non sequitur but I kept listening to one of the sopranos with the déjà vu feeling that I was listening to Cathy Berberian. I’m telling you that because I love Berberian’s voice and I don’t lightly compare it to others. So, whichever of the 6 of you it was, you are a lovely vocalist and I think you should sing some Berio! 🙂

There was a visual aspect to the show as well. The room was laid out in such a way as to feel like a space similar to the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Not dark and sacred but still comfortably and reverently enclosed. Bruce Guenther, the museum’s chief curator (who I have praised in the past) did the lighting design. Curtains surrounding the space displayed a variety of lighting with colors derived from many of those used in Rothko’s paintings before he turned to his final period of dark panels. The lighting was pleasing and the environment very conducive to experiencing the concert in a Rothko-laden context. Nice work Mr. Guenther!

Let me finish by simply saying that Third Angle (along with PAM and Resonance) deserve a very heartfelt congratulations. True, I came to hear Feldman and I don’t like Cage. But it was an exceptional program. Besides, I’ve been in Portland for nearly 23 years and I can’t remember a single performance of Christian Wolff. So, it’s clear that Third Angle is dedicated to bringing critical new music to Portland and that they are essentially the only ones who so effectively will take the risk.

Superb work and a wonderful augmentation of the Rothko show. John and Morty are no doubt smiling!