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Eugene Weekly : Music : 5.24.07

The Phab Phillies

Opium dreams, UFOs and Beowulf

BY BRETT CAMPBELL

First Renée Fleming, now the Philadelphia Orchestra — Eugene is certainly cornering the classical celeb market these days. (In your face, Portland!) While the Phillies' May 27 program admittedly offers nothing new or even recent, it still offers a chance to hear one of classical music's grandest institutions strutting its stuff. Mozart's lilting Sinfonia Concertante for winds may not quite achieve the brilliance of its viola and violin counterpart but provides a delicious showpiece for the soloists. The main course, the Fantastic Symphony by the master orchestrator Hector Berlioz, displays the orchestra's famously polished sound. The great early masterpiece of Romanticism was inspired by the composer's lust for a famous actress — celeb worship is nothing new — whom he later married, though not before transforming her into a Satanic ogre in the symphony's opium dream of a final movement.

The Philadelphia Orchestra

The PO has enjoyed a deserved reputation as one of the world's finest since the days of Leopold Stokowski before WWII and, despite the current frostiness between musicians and departing music director Christoph Eschenbach, still reigns as one of the elite orchestras. It'll be interesting to hear how that famous Philly sound survives in Silva Hall, and maybe this performance will provide a benchmark for local music fans to measure the progress of our own well-regarded orchestra.

When the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned Philadelphia Stories from composer Michael Daugherty (who had heard it often), he included a movement that paid explicit tribute to the Stokowski sound. I heard Marin Alsop conduct it at the Cabrillo Festival along with another Daugherty piece that the Oregon Wind Ensemble will play June 1 at Beall Concert Hall. Daugherty's delightfully dizzy UFO is a dazzling five-movement percussion concerto that channels reports of UFO sightings, affectionate nods to old science fiction movies and Star Trek and a host of wild effects. Evelyn Glennie was the star soloist in that Cabrillo performance (and on the Philadelphia Stories/UFO CD) but the UO's own Sean Wagoner, who will perform it here, is easily up to the frenetic percussion solos.

Speaking of percussion music, the Oregon Percussion Ensemble pays tribute to one of the pioneers of that form, John Cage, in an afternoon concert June 2. Cage's early works for percussion helped open up new possibilities for music. Cage soon after blazed trails in electronic music, and one of today's innovators in that form, Masayuki Akamatsu, will present some of his electronic audio visual works that evening in Room 198 of the UO Music School. Also at Beall, the May 31 choral concert features Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary music by several composers including Portland-born Morten Lauridsen. And the June 7 band and orchestra concert has works by more contemporary composers including Penderecki and Eric Whitacre.

The UO also hosts a terrific jazz program this Thursday, May 24, when the fine contemporary trumpeter Ron Miles joins UO faculty and students in his own originals and works by UO students. I was delighted to discover Miles on recordings with his frequent partner Bill Frisell, and he's since become a distinctive original voice in contemporary jazz. The UO also hosts jazz concerts on May 25 (room 178) and June 3 (Beall), featuring premieres of accomplished student works and classics by Horace Silver, Bill Evans and more. And on June 1, UO guitar prof Mike Denny and organ master Barney McClure play jazz from their new CD, with help from drummer Kevin Congleton, at Jo Federigo's. But the big jazz show is Joshua Redman, who also has a new CD and who returns to the Shedd on June 6, this time in his acoustic trio with drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. The young tenor/soprano sax giant was one of the brightest and most popular stars to emerge in jazz in the 1990s; his new trio disk looks back to the post-bop trio tradition of Sonny Rollins, augmented by occasional Asian influences, including Indonesian gamelan.

You can hear a real gamelan, accompanying shadow puppet theater, in a free show at the UO's Agate Hall on June 2. But instead of presenting a traditional Javanese epic from the Mahabarata or Ramayana, this performance is something special: an original score and script composed and performed by Qehn and the ensemble he directs, Eugene's Gamelan Sari Pandhawa. (Full disclosure: I sometimes play in that ensemble, but I won't be in this performance, and I receive no compensation whatsoever from the group.) Qehn has taught gamelan at the UO and studied composition at the university. He's long been fascinated by the imperishable Beowulf legend and has created a setting of the epic featuring songs in Old English and Scots Gaelic, a script in both Old and Modern English and puppet action using hand-carved puppets from Java. It'll be fascinating to hear the results of crossing one of the West's great myths with one of the East's great musical and theatrical forms.