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Sunny Day Sounds

Outstanding classical music albums for summer listening

Classical music takes a holiday through most of this month, as many of us seek transcendent experiences at the coast, in the mountains, or along the rivers rather than in concert halls. So it’s a perfect time to recommend some new CDs by Oregon musicians.


Bonnie Miksch Every Tendril a Wish 

The Portland State University professor has rapidly risen to become one of the state’s most accomplished composers. Her radiant disc of mostly electro-acoustic music conjures some attractive digital soundscapes, but unlike so many products of electronica, it doesn’t stop with achieving a cool sonic effect. 

“I believe that the power of music comes from its ability to connect the physical world of vibrations with the internal worlds of the mind and of emotions,” Miksch writes in her liner notes. This is music that “moves beyond abstract relationships into the boundless realm of emotions and dreams.” Drawing on real life inspirations like her husband and infant son, Miksch leavens her electronic textures with acoustic instruments (flute, alto sax), that much-used staple of outdoor gatherings and festivals, the didgeridoo, her own voice, and fellow PSU professor Joel Bluestone from the Portland ensemble FearNoMusic in a solo percussion showcase. This promising disc affirms Miksch’s ascension to the top rank of Oregon composers.


Adam Hurst Obscura 

This Portland-based cellist believes in practicing in public, so he’s frequently sighted with cello and portable amp at farmers markets, festivals, solo concerts and even airports, along with his concert appearances. Hurst’s atmospheric album marks an advance beyond his earlier solo and piano-accompanied songs, thanks to the inclusion of tanpura and frame drum, which respectively provide a haunting drone and rhythmic pulse to his gradually evolving, evocative original compositions, which often use Middle Eastern-sounding scales. Hurst’s plangent melodies make melancholy mood music, but closer attention reveals more than mere background sounds.



Chamber Music Northwest David Shifrin & Friends

The venerable Oregon institution has been presenting its relaxed summer festival at Portland’s Reed College for 42 years now, boasting many of the same players over the decades. Yet Chamber Music Northwest (CMNW) is also looking forward, with its Protege Project devoted to performances by some of the nation’s top rising young classical music stars, its recent foray into year-round programming and now this excellent new disc of music by contemporary and 20th century composers. Except for the annual summer sojourn, most of CMNW’s musicians, Shifrin included, reside in New York or otherwise outside Oregon. They are some of America’s busiest classical musicians, most from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. David Shifrin & Friends includes veteran cellist and music advocate Fred Sherry, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinists Daniel Philips (from the Orion Quartet), Ani and Ida Kavafian, oboist Allan Vogel (familiar to Oregon Bach Festival fans) and many other names. But the star is the affable Shifrin, whose lithe tone shifts effortlessly across the spectrum — creamy, penetrating, rich and focused.

Also on the album are Stephen Hartke’s playful “The Horse with the Lavender Eye” (inspired by, among other influences, a Looney Tune and R. Crumb), and Florida composer Ellen Taafe Zwilich’s “Clarinet Concerto.” Both of these pieces were recorded at CMNW’s main home, Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium. The latter’s composition was interrupted by the September 11 terrorist attacks, reflected in the second movement lament that follows the busy opener. But the third movement swiftly returns to vitality, expressed in a blistering tempo and a few wild Shifrin riffs, before settling in to pensive finale. This isn’t merely one of the most exciting discs of Oregon music in years but also one of the finest collections of recent American chamber music and a must for clarinet fans.