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Eugene Weekly : Music : 1.24.08




Explosive Talent

New York's Fireworks ensemble heads a week of new music at the UO

BY BRETT CAMPBELL

Fireworks
Peter Evans

A decade ago, UO music grad student Brian Coughlin faced a dilemma common to open-eared contemporary musicians: what direction to go next? Problem was, like many late 20th century music lovers, he enjoyed a wide spectrum of music — he played in the school's gospel choir, two orchestras, rock, jazz and chamber groups, even the gamelan. The talented young bassist/composer loved it all (and won praise for his student compositions in this column) — why should he have to give any of it up to fit into some arbitrary, old fashioned pigeonhole like "classical" or "rock"? Well, Coughlin decided, he didn't. Over the next few years, at New England's famed Hartt School and elsewhere, Coughlin found similarly eclectic and talented comrades-in-instruments, and they formed Fireworks, announcing their 2002 arrival with Coughlin's full-length, rock-style arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's detonation of modern music, The Rite of Spring. Winning acclaim from critics and fans around the country, Fireworks has become one of the most exciting bands in postclassical music. Wielding guitar, cello, violin, keyboards, percussion, sax and flute, the group (which might be mistaken for an alt rock band if you spotted them on the street) can handle a wide variety of repertoire; their latest CD veers from fresh takes on New Order's "Blue Monday" to Lully's "Bourgeois Gentleman" and makes it all work. On Sunday, Feb. 3, the ensemble returns to Coughlin's alma mater to perform one of his original compositions as well as one by one of his mentors, UO music professor Robert Kyr, and more — including their electric version of Stravinsky's Rite. Anyone who likes classical and edgy contemporary music should catch this Beall Hall concert and see firsthand evidence that postclassical music is alive and rocking.

Three days later, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, another example of postclassical vitality takes the Beall stage. The four horn players (including UO prof Lydia Van Dreel) in Quadre have won prestigious awards and performed with orchestras and jazz ensembles around the country. They'll perform originals and arrangements of 20th century music influenced by jazz and world music, including works by Aaron Copland, J.S. Bach, Handel and a commissioned work by David Garner. And on Feb. 3, you can hear the University Symphony play music of that 19th century radical, Franz Liszt, at Beall.

Another rising young New York new music explorer, trumpeter/composer Peter Evans, plays at Cozmic Pizza on Feb. 4. Evans, a virtuoso who's played with the superb new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, John Zorn and a host of other groups, leans more toward avant- and free-jazz styles, but he's also played everything from bebop to Brandenburgs. Fans of adventurous music should check him out.

Other groups are refreshing postclassical music by changing up the outdated, rigid performance rituals that suffocate too many concerts. One of them, calling itself America's Dream Chamber Artists, plays the UO's ever-estimable Chamber Music Series on Jan. 31 at Beall. They'll perform fine music by Mozart, Brahms, Albert Roussel and one of America's finest active composers, Chen Yi. She's one of the amazing corps of composers (Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Zhou Long) who left China for the U.S. in the 1980s. On Jan. 28, two groups from their homeland — the Children's Choir and Young Women's Chorus from the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra — perform music of Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Kodaly and more at Beall.

The really big event for choir lovers happens Feb. 1 when Minnesota's legendary St. Olaf's Choir alights at the Hult Center's Silva Concert Hall. For nearly a century, the choir has gained international acclaim for its pure, precision singing in international tours and TV appearances; you might have caught the annual Christmas show on PBS last month. Its director, Anton Armstrong, is a familiar face hereabouts for his frequent visits to the Oregon Bach Festival, where he founded and leads the festival's Youth Choral Academy. The choir's touring program — from Renaissance masterpieces by Palestrina and Peter Phillips to Baroque and Classical works by J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn to contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and a half dozen other modern composers, including gospel music — attests to the chorus's immense range and ability. These are some of the finest musicians you'll hear all year and a primary recommendation for the season.

There's so much good music in the area this month that Eugene can't hold it all. Over at OSU'S LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis on Jan. 30, another important classical music chamber music group, the Schubert Ensemble of London, plays chamber music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (a recently discovered quintet), Robert Schumann and a new piece written for the group by a rising young British composer, David Knotts; his piece actually has an agricultural theme. And on Jan. 26, Kevin Burke, who's lived in Portland for years and is one of the greatest Irish fiddlers alive, plays with his sometime partner, guitarist and composer Cal Scott (from the Trail Band), along with Casey Neill and members of The Decemberists at the Majestic Theater in Corvallis. I've seen Burke and Scott play in ale houses and concert halls, and it's always a treat. You'd have to fly to Ireland to hear fiddling this good, so what's 40 miles?