When Virtuosos Collide
UO Music kicks it into high gear
By Brett Campbell
When he attended the UO music school in the 1990s, Portland native Brian McWhorter earned a national reputation as a trumpet prodigy and praise in EW for the original music he wrote for his innovative After Quartet. After moving to New York to attend Juilliard, McWhorter quickly scored prime gigs in orchestras and new music circles (including work with John Cale, John Zorn and more) by virtue of his ability to play almost unperformable new sounds. He joined and revitalized the veteran Meridian Arts Ensemble (the Kronos Quartet of horn players), with whom he tours the country playing modern postclassical music.
Molly Barth earned a national reputation — and a Grammy — for her fab flute work in a decade with the young Chicago-based new music ensemble eighth blackbird. Weary of spending six months a year on the road with the adventurous, award-winning group, she moved with her percussionist husband (who’s in the wine business) to wine-friendly Oregon. Her immense skills immediately earned Barth gigs with the Oregon and Eugene Symphonies, Portland new music ensembles FearNoMusic and Third Angle and others.
Both music masters were recently hired to the faculty of the UO and decided to team up. “Beta Collide started with Molly and me talking about our experiences in some of the nation’s most prominent new music ensembles,” McWhorter says. “The experiment of Beta Collide is: Can we curate the music that excites us in a way that excites the public?” The group’s name evokes experimentality (beta testing) and interaction — between art genres and sensibilities; uptown and downtown; improvised and codified music.
Beta Collide’s Oct. 18 show in room 163 of the UO music building features baritone Nicholas Isherwood in music of Euro-modernist composers György Kurtág and Luciano Berio. McWhorter and his wife, Eugene Symphony assistant concertmaster Lisa McWhorter, Barth and her husband, percussionist Philip Patti, will play mid-century modernist Earle Brown’s Folio (with its groundbreaking graphic score on display). The visual component also includes live painter Roger Hayes, and the program includes music of contemporary avant gardists Mark Applebaum and Stephen Vitiello and, best of all, Portland native Lou Harrison’s beguilingly beautiful Indian-influenced Ariadne for flute and percussion.
That’s one of several attractive UO shows. On Oct. 19, the string players of England’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble play music of Dvorak, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn’s miraculous Octet. In four-plus decades of sensitive, precise recordings and extensive performances, the ASMF’s chamber group helped define the standards of late 20th century chamber music, so this is a top recommendation. On Oct. 16, another UO prof, soprano Laura Decher Wayte, teams up with pianist Nathalie Fortin, harpsichordist Margret Gries, flutist Kim Pineda, and Joanna Blendulf on viola da gamba in an excellent program of too seldom heard centuries-spanning French music by Monteclair, Chopin, Germaine Tailleferre and Olivier Messiaen. Of course, the biggest UO show features the world’s most important postclassical ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, performing (with recorded clones) a recent major work of the world’s greatest living composer, Steve Reich, plus music of John Zorn and arrangements of recent music from the Middle East, India, Mexico’s Cafe Tacuba and more at the UO’s EMU Ballroom this Thursday, Oct. 16. (See our preview in last week’s issue.)
Another UO trumpet prodigy, Douglas Detrick, has been making some excellent jazz with his young quintet (Hashem Assadullahi, alto sax; Justin Morell, guitar; Josh Tower, bass; and drummer Ryan Biesack). Now with his master’s degree in hand, Detrick is recording a new album of everything from straightahead classics to his groove-oriented originals to covers of music from Johnny Cash to Radiohead. He’s playing an after-hours show at DIVA Oct. 25. His saxman Hashem Assadullahi is now teaching jazz to college students in Bangkok, but while he’s back in town, he’s bringing his sweet tone, firm grasp of classic 1960s postbop styles and a quintet featuring the superb modern jazz trumpeter Ron Miles (a longtime partner of Bill Frisell’s) to Jo Federigo’s on Oct. 17 — a top jazz recommendation.
On the world music front, yet another band that mixes African and rock music arrives at the WOW Hall on Oct. 24. Toubab Crewe hails from the mountains of Asheville, N.C., but its members have studied in Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast and they play instruments like the kamelengoni and kora harps (along with electric guitar and percussion) credibly enough to make their danceable, rocked-up arrangements of traditional West African songs really sizzle.
Cozmic Pizza hosts another recommended show when the virtuoso classical/jazz fingerstyle guitarist David Rogers performs his original compositions and classical guitar warhorses on Oct. 23.