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Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.17.09




Local Legends, Rising Stars

Fall sounds new and old

by Brett Campbell 

Margret Gries

Oregon teems with artists of national significance who should be better known than they are but are content to maintain a low-key existence here in paradise. One is Douglas Leedy, the Portland-born composer who was right there at the inception of minimalism with his University of California classmates LaMonte Young and Terry Riley in the early 1960s. Like Riley, he also studied Indian music and went onto found the electronic music studio at UCLA and make some of the earliest major synthesizer recordings. Following the example of fellow Portland native Lou Harrison, Leedy made important contributions to the study of musical tuning and was a pioneer in the early music revival, founding one of the West’s finest ensembles, the Portland Baroque Orchestra, still going stronger than ever a quarter century on. In recent decades, he’s studied the music and culture of classical Greece, crafting compositions and tuning systems that attempt to recreate its lost arts. As composer, scholar and performer, then, Leedy has been a pioneer in the 20th century’s most salubrious musical developments — minimalism, the return of beautiful natural tunings (instead of the compromised 12-tone equal temperament that, alas, still dominates most Western music), world music, electronic music and early music. Yet this trail blazing West Coast musical figure lives quietly in Western Oregon, lacking (as far as I know) even that imprimatur of modern artistic existence, a web page or MySpace. Fortunately, another unfairly unsung Oregon music advocate, harpsichordist and early music maven Margret Gries, is returning Leedy’s rarely heard music to the public ear. On Sept. 27 at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, she’ll play several of Leedy’s modal, melodic works for specially tuned harpsichords. The Oregon Bach Collegium concert should be an ear-opening experience for anyone who has yet to encounter music played in the sorts of natural
tunings used by pre-Romantic composers as well as most non-Western musical cultures. This is a rare chance to hear homegrown music that’s at once forward looking and historically informed, engaging and enlightening.

On Sept. 19, another Oregon music legend, Philip Bayles, gets a harpsichord tribute — this one honoring the 63rd birthday of the Eugene Opera founder, former longtime Eugene Concert Choir director and current music director of United Lutheran Church, among many other musical contributions. At 2 pm in the Atrium building courtyard at 10 and Olive, Bayles and several musical colleagues will debut his newly restored 1880s-era harpsichord with music by Vivaldi, Couperin, J.S.Bach, Handel and more. 

The big news in local classical music is the Sept. 24 debut of the Eugene Symphony’s new music director, Danail Rachev, and I take it as a promising sign that, along with the obligatory overplayed Romantic chestnut, he’s also programmed the Oregon premiere of a modern West Coast masterpiece: John Adams’ sinuous 2003 electric violin concerto, The Dharma at Big Sur, featuring its original soloist, Tracy Silverman.

One of the Northwest’s finest jazz lineups, Zony Mash, returns to Sam Bond’s on Sept. 27, this time toting a four-horn section, including mad Seattle saxman Skerik. Composer/keyboard legend Wayne Horvitz’s electric octet makes some of the most cooking contemporary jazz around, and shouldn’t be missed when they’re in the ’hood.

The Shedd opens its season with a trio of visiting artists. On Sept. 23, rising jazz singer and songwriter Lizz Wright brings her husky, gospel and southern R&B inflected vocals to the Jaqua Concert Hall. Wright’s appeal transcends jazz; she’s a powerful, Dusty Springfield-style pop-style singer, too. The next night, another ascending female jazz vocalist with pop potential, Gretchen Parlato, brings her quartet to the Shedd. She’s already won awards and praise from star collaborators such as Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves and Wayne Shorter, whose music she’s covered winningly. Her floaty voice and Brazilian and African influences make giver her music an appealingly light touch. And on September 26, the Jawaiian (reggae-tinged Hawaiian music) singer Sashamon brings his laid-back island vibe to the Shedd. On Sept. 25, the Shedd hosts the great Irish fiddler Kevin Burke with guitarist and Trail Bandman Cal Scott. Both based in Portland now, they too rarely make it to Eugene, so fans shouldn’t miss the chance to hear one of Irish music’s true stars.

Speaking of Celtic sounds, my previous column’s rave review of Skye’s splendid new album should have listed the members’ names as Michael Bardossi, Julia Heydon, Lexy Wellman and Glen Waddell — but that lineup is now apparently old news, as one member has left and the band is exploring new collaborations. I hope they return soon in some configuration. Meanwhile, check skyecelticmusic.com for info on one of Eugene’s best ensembles and the new CD, Storm Watch, which is a must-have for fans of Celtic music.