Augusta Read Thomas loves bells. The respected Chicago-based composer is fascinated by how human beings have used them throughout history to mark important cultural events, and has amassed a fair collection.
Bells play a critical role in Thomas’ new half-hour orchestral composition Sonorous Earth, an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth, which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday, April 19, at the Hult Center. Each of its four movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th-century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.
It’s also a visual treat, as you get to see the four members of Chicago’s Grammy-winning Third Coast Percussion zipping around the Silva Hall stage to whack, stroke and ring 300 different shiny ceremonial bells, Japanese prayer bowls, vibes, gongs, chimes, Noah bells, kyeezees (look it up) and other light or heavy metal objects from cultures all over the world.
The nature-themed concert also features a pair of watery 19th-century classics: Richard Wagner’s operatic “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Götterdämmerung, and Debussy’s magical symphonic poem La mer (The Sea).
Another great 20th-century composer, Arvo Pärt, who’s still going strong in the 21st, is featured in The Ensemble of Oregon’s April 21 concert at Central Lutheran Church. Some of Portland’s finest singers and its chamber orchestra will perform Pärt’s haunting Silouan’s Song, Pilgrim’s Psalm, Most Holy Mother of God, God Grant Us Peace and his great Berlin Mass.
Many of us still fondly remember Pärt’s appearance at the 1994 Oregon Bach Festival, and his renown has soared since then as the Estonian master has become the world’s most performed living composer, as popular with non-classical fans as with aficionados.
Unfortunately, that’s the same Saturday night Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of the Man of Words Theatre Company.
The big news is the premiere of a new work by Eugene’s own killer composer Paul Safar inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s ultra creepy story The Tell-Tale Heart, which Birran will declaim between movements.
The quartet members will use percussive effects and frame drum to evoke the famous beating heart and more. Birran will also read excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein between movements of Shostakovich’s famous, searing eighth quartet, and from Tolstoy’s Beethoven-inspired novella The Kreutzer Sonata, which in turn inspired Leoš Janáček’s powerful quartet of the same name.
Speaking of music and murderous literature, another celebrated Eugene actor, Bill Hulings, stars in Eugene Symphony’s April 29 family concert, The Composer is Dead, based on Lemony Snicket’s delightful murder mystery and featuring original music by American composer Nathaniel Stookey. It’s an inviting — and interactive — introduction to music and instruments.
Music and theater continue to consort April 27-28 at The Shedd’s annual cabaret presentation of Evynne Hollens’ Contemporary Songbook, which brings music from today’s Broadway stages to Eugene. This time the featured musicals are biographical, from Hamilton to Beautiful (with all those fabulous Carole King-Gerry Goffin hits) to Anastasia, Grey Gardens, Fun Home (based on Alison Bechdel’s wondrous graphic memoir), Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, to last year’s hit Come from Away and the current movie musical The Greatest Showman, inspired by the true story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Best of all, we get a peek at singer Hollens’ new musical in progress with Portland singer-songwriter Anna Gilbert, Milagro.
The Shedd also continues its new classical music series this Sunday with microphilharmonic chamber ensemble playing Franz Schubert’s rarely heard Octet for eight wind instruments. If it’s new music you’re looking for that night, check the Oregon Composers Forum’s April 22 concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Estelí Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.
Another musical theater tradition hits the Hult’s Silva stage April 28 when Eugene Concert Choir joins DJ Prashant Kakad, tabla player Ankush Vimawala and Eugene Bhangra dancers in the original musical Bollywood Dreams, which tells the story of young lovers caught between tradition and modernity using classic Bollywood songs (including Slumdog Millionaire’s “Jai Ho”) and traditional Indian ragas.
The Oregon Bach Festival is a few months away, but you can get a taste of its namesake’s music this Sunday at First United Methodist Church when singers Brittany Rudoi and Paul John Rudoi join baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck and organist Julia Brown in a pair of Bach’s solo cantatas.
At United Lutheran Church on the 29th, Oregon Bach Collegium’s all-Bach show features the Delgani Quartet and others, presenting three of Bach’s ever popular Brandenburg Concertos and a couple of equally lovely sonatas, all played on period instruments by historically informed experts.
A different kind of historically informed concert happens at Beall on April 27 when Chicago Cuatro Orchestra plays traditional Puerto Rican music.
We started with percussion at the Hult — let’s end with more. On Tuesday, May 1, you can hear the acclaimed Japanese drum ensemble TAO play traditional and original percussion music from their own and other traditions, including Korean, Maori and Indonesian influences. And they add a visual spectacle — dance — that complements the music. ■