Link: Farewell, my lovely music shop

By Bob Hicks

Yesterday I learned the awful truth: Classical Millennium, Portland’s wonderful and staunchly provocative classical music store, has given in to the realities of the marketplace and will close up shop in September. It’s yet another blow to the texture of a small city that likes to think it plays bigger than its population.

cmcoversThis is a major bummer. I wrote about it for Oregon ArtsWatch in this piece, A sad day in the life: Classical Millennium, farewell. The essay talks not only about the abstract loss to the city and its cultural life, but more personally about the loss to me and to my teenage son, who’s developed a close and lovely relationship with a store that’s now going away. I know, I know: Progress, and all that rot. Life will go on. But not all change is good.

Here’s an excerpt:

(F)rom its beginning in 1977, CM has been more than just a shop. It’s been a place of discovery, a crucible of learning, a home away from home. Like Pioneer Courthouse Square and Powell’s City of Books, it’s helped define the sort of place we’d like to think we want Portland to be. People grow up in a place like this, and expand their capacities, and reinvent themselves. People discover what the world feels and thinks and sounds like, and where they want to be inside that great globe of intellect and emotion.

Links: From Bard to Beethoven

David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Jim Leisy
David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet at CMNW. Photo: Jim Leisy

By Bob Hicks

A couple of recent pieces, both at Oregon ArtsWatch.

 Here a Bard, there a Bard, everywhere a Bard Bard takes a look at Portland’s summer of Shakespeare, including Original Practice Shakespeare‘s energetic Much Adoe About Nothing (that’s original practice spelling) and Portland Shakespeare Project‘s world premier of C.J. Whitcomb’s Lear’s Follies.

Quick quote: “Amid all of this action it’s tough to shake the idea that Shakespeare’s becoming almost more source material than sacred text. Like Greek mythology for visual artists and playwrights, or like the Great American Songbook for jazz innovators, Shakespeare’s plays are serving more and more as springboards for reimaginings – stories so well-known, at least in certain circles, that they become raw material for new creations.”

– Chamber Music NW: Relax, it’s only a masterpiece looks at the effects of formality and informality in serious music, what “contemporary” means in the face of great works from the past, and whether it’s OK to wear jeans to hear Beethoven.

Quick quote: “It didn’t matter that the Emerson can seem aloof, or that Shifrin can be charming, or whether the performers and audience were wearing white tails and top hats or Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps. In the presence of greatness, only the greatness matters.”


Link: The rites of pain & politics onstage

Ty Boice and Anne Mueller in "Kabuki Titus." Courtesy Bag&Baggage

By Bob Hicks

I’ll match your money-grubbing idiot politician and raise you a virgin-mutilating Goth queen. Portland’s summer season of theatrical broad gestures is in full gallop, and I slowed down long enough to file this report at Oregon ArtsWatch on Jane: A Theater Company‘s production of the David Mamet political farce November and Bag & Baggage‘s Kabuki Titus, director Scott Palmer’s pared-down take on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

An excerpt about Kabuki Titus:

“I’d be surprised if Palmer hadn’t had the films of Akira Kurosawa in mind when he was creating his adaptation, especially Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s noh-steeped adaptation of Macbeth. Once Anne Mueller, playing Titus’s unfortunate daughter Lavinia, enters the stage the performance suggests another movie parallel, the movement poetics of the great silent films. … (W)hen she floats delicately onto the scene she immediately becomes the most vital reason to see this show. The production springs into an altered reality, elevating from what had been a sometimes strained approximation of kabuki movement into the sort of time-altering dream-state that ritual requires.”

An excerpt about November:

November is what it is: an odd but bracing little goof that embraces the great American passion for ridiculing the casual venality and mock sincerity of politics. Things’ll get heavier and heavier as November approaches. Right now the sun’s out, the jokes are flying, and the targets are as fat and juicy as they’re likely to get. Bring your pop gun. Bag yourself a politician. Seems they’re in season.”


Photo: Ty Boice and Anne Mueller in “Kabuki Titus.” Courtesy Bag & Baggage

Link: Bartow carves a notch in D.C.

By Bob Hicks

Not too long ago I visited Oregon artist Rick Bartow at his Newport studio and got the lowdown on his latest big project: a pair of 20-foot-tall pole carvings, depicting Raven and Grandmother Bear, that will be installed September 21st outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, just about a block from the White House. Public commissions don’t come a lot more public than this.

Twin poles in the process: Next stop, National Mall. Photo: Laura Grimes
Photo: Laura Grimes

On Friday night I published an essay about it, In the studio: Rick Bartow carves a spot on the National Mall, at Oregon ArtsWatch. Bartow talked about teamwork, community, the value of rolling with the punches, what engineering’s got to do with it, why the carvings are NOT totem poles, and a lot of other stuff. For good measure, he and his folk/blues band, Rick Bartow and the Back Seat Drivers, provided the soundtrack for a Newport Saturday Night.

An excerpt from the essay:

The project’s gone remarkably well, if you discount the numerous design changes, the struggles to align art with engineering for the permanent installation, the steep learning curve, and the occasional flareup of vision problems from Bartow’s unexpected stroke about a year and a half ago. Originally each pole was to feature a big glass disc – sun on one, moon on the other – designed by Bartow’s partner, glass artist Nancy Blair. That changed when Corning Glass scientists looked the plans over and declared that at some point the constant stress of sun, rain and wind would cause the discs to burst. Government engineers, not surprisingly, blanched at the prospect of glass showering over tourists on the mall below.

Generation Nexus: How CAN we fund the skills our future leaders will need?

By Trisha Pancio Mead

Self-confidence. Poise. Complex pattern recognition. Spatial relationships. Symmetry and paradox. Good design. Leadership. Collaborative, deadline-driven, results-oriented cooperative achievement. Proportion. Scale. Balance. Discipline. Persuasiveness. Empathy. And yes, innovation.

Are these values and skill sets that we want instilled in the next generation? The generation, let’s remember, that will ultimately be responsible for running the organizations, government entities and private businesses that are the backbone of Portland’s economy?

Science meets art: Woman teaching Euclidean geometry in 14th century painting. 1309 - 1316, France;The British LibraryOr, let’s get even more pragmatic here: What percentage of our future workforce would we like to see have a high school diploma? And is it worth $35 a year to ensure that, not only do more of Portland’s students graduate, they also graduate with self-confidence, discipline, empathy and the capacity for innovation?

Because, in its simplest terms, the funding mechanism proposed by the Creative Advocacy Network is designed to do exactly that: restore arts and music instruction and increase access to arts related experiences throughout Portland. On Saturday The Oregonian’s editorial board dismissed the proposal, arguing that art and music “are low priorities.” Oregon Arts Watch founder and editor Barry Johnson quickly filed this rebuttal, and Niel DePonte –  Oregon Symphony percussionist, music director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, Grammy nominee, founder/president of Metro Arts, Inc. – followed with this rebuttal printed in The Oregonian’s opinion section.

Why, in spite of The Oregonian’s objections, is this initiative crucial?

Continue reading Generation Nexus: How CAN we fund the skills our future leaders will need?

Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Photo: Pak HanPhoto: Pak Han

By Martha Ullman West

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Conduit since I moved to Portland’s South Park blocks – also known as the city’s “cultural district” – a month ago, happily walking a few blocks to see Top Shake Dance; the studio’s 17th anniversary benefit, where it was lovely to see some excerpts of Mary Oslund’s work; and, most recently, Thursday night’s opening of Bay Area choreographer Randee Paufve’s So I Married Abraham Lincoln …, subtitled A Dance about the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln and the American First Lady.

It’s a lovely piece, containing all the attributes of a really good novel: it makes you laugh and makes you cry and makes you think.  Paufve, no stranger to Portland – she’s danced with Mary Oslund and Gregg Bielemeier and performed her own work here as well – has incorporated spoken text, a score that includes classical, folk and rock music, some of which the dancers sing, and her own space-devouring movement vocabulary into one of the best pieces of dance theater I’ve seen in many a moon.

Continue reading Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Links: Solo shows and Arthur Kopit’s sin

Portland’s 33rd annual Drammy theater awards are tonight at the Crystal Ballroom, and to get you into the mood I’ve posted a couple of recent theater pieces on Oregon Arts Watch.

akopitThe most recent is How Arthur Kopit led me to wrack and ruin, a headline that grievously overstates the distinguished playwright’s culpability. An excerpt:

And then I signed up for a speech class, which was being offered through the theater department instead of the English department, and I met a girl who was, as she declared a little breathlessly, an actress, and as one thing led to another I found myself hanging out with the cast and crew of the show she was working on: yes, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. And the people were frankly kind of nuts but also smart and a lot of fun.

The other is A crowd of singular sensations, a look at Portland’s sudden scramble of one-person shows, including The Centering and How Small a Thought. An excerpt:

For people who believe, as I do, that the heart of theater beats in the spaces between the performers, solo shows present a conundrum: with only one performer, where’s the vital mystery in the middle? A good solo show – and both The Centering and Hull’s piece are good ones – neatly bypasses the problem by taking the magic space directly to the audience, which becomes the “other” performer in the play. It’s really not much different from a soliloquy in a Shakespeare play, in which the character isolates himself from the “reality” of the stage and takes his case directly to the audience.

Photo: Arthur Kopit, dangerous man.

A poem to catch a writing breeze

Sharp-shinned hawks, chromolithograph, 1908, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook/Wikimedia CommonsBy Laura Grimes

I’ve been blog quiet much too long. I can’t explain these things, but just accept them. My writer brain has languished. I’ve seen glimpses of it, fragments, but capturing a cohesive sense has been a struggle.

For me, poetry often serves as a toddling way back to recovery, a voice for the broken. Not broken as in destroyed, or sad, though sometimes that can be the case, too, but in this instance, I consider it more a voice for the misshapen. It’s a bunch of puzzle pieces that need realigning. Again, I don’t question these things, I’m just grateful.

I thought I lost my poetry touch a few years ago. I never realized it was leaving, it just wasn’t there anymore and it took me a while to notice it was gone, but by then it was too late. So I’m surprised now by its sudden return, unannounced and unbidden, like a shadowed figure seeking shelter from a storm who shows up wet on my doorstep smelling of the natural order of things. Irresistible, really. But why?

Continue reading A poem to catch a writing breeze

R.I.P.: Doc Watson, American original

The inimitable Doc Watson died today at age 89. He was an American original, partly by being a true American traditionalist. I love his music and my idea, at least, of who he was. I wrote the following piece on him for The Oregonian, where it ran on June 1, 1997. I’d change a few things if I were writing it today, but it’s still worth a look if you knew Doc’s music, or if you didn’t but wish you had:

By Bob Hicks

On Father’s Day, the deep past visits Portland. And maybe, as popular music seeks a way out of its morass of superstardom, the future will too. Because try as we might to pretend it never happened, the past is part of us, and it shapes what we will be.

docwatsonThank goodness Doc Watson is helping to carry it.

American music rarely sounds better than when Watson plays it. His easy-gliding voice is as fresh and sweet as the first bite of a mountain apple, and he is very likely the finest, most influential flat-top guitarist of his era.

He is, in short, a legend. But as far as popular musical consciousness goes, he is also, like the grand tradition of American optimism that he represents, in danger of fading away.

Semiretired since his son and partner Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985, Watson is about to make his first Portland appearance in eight years. On June 15, two days after opening this year’s Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, he’ll play a barbecue picnic at Oaks Amusement Park. And he will carry on his aging and unassuming shoulders the strength and possibilities of time itself.

At 74, Watson is a bridge back to the sounds and ideals from which we sprang: Irish-Scottish folk ballads, African-American field songs, Delta blues, mountain-fiddling tunes from Saturday-night dances and back-porch gatherings, age-old lullabies, church songs, Civil War stories, railroad songs, even Tin Pan Alley tunes and rockabilly.

Good music comes from someplace, and Watson’s is redolent of community — of people who share experiences, outlooks, territories. The specific someplace most important in the forming of his music is the Southern hill country that produced scratch farmers, cotton pickers, coal miners and string bands.

Continue reading R.I.P.: Doc Watson, American original

Link: Dancing down the mountain

By Bob Hicks

A long time ago Portland dancer and choreographer Jim McGinn worked deep inside the mine shafts running into the mountain near Leadville, Colorado. It was hard and dangerous work, claustrophobic and stultifying. He never forgot.

jamb-photo-3-top-to-bottom-chase-hamilton-dana-detweiler-credit-lauriel-schumanSo he made a dance about it. His contemporary troupe TopShakeDance has been performing it at Conduit, and has two shows left: Friday and Saturday, May 24-25, 8 o’clock each night. I saw the show on Thursday night and posted this story, Jambin’ underground: TopShakeDance digs deep, on Oregon ArtsWatch.

An excerpt:

I spent the evening, for the most part, simply feeling the interplay between performers and sound, concentrating on the essential musicality of dance, which often comes with stories attached but at its deepest level doesn’t really need them, because, like music, dance is essentially unexplainable. Only afterwards did I read the program notes and discover the story that inspired McGinn. In a way that was a good way to go, because it gave me two experiences: the first, essentially emotional and existential; the second, reflective and intellectual. Put ’em together and you get a sense of how the human animal works.

Chase Hamilton and Dana Detweiler in “Jamb.” Photo: Lauriel Schuman

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