city sunset

  by nobleviola
a photo by nobleviola on Flickr.

Third Angle played a salon concert at the offices of Mulvanny|G2 architects in the Moda insurance building this evening – and this was the view from our green room.

The salon featured our guest composer this week, Gabriela Lena Frank, who has been in town since Monday coaching and rehearsing with members of 3A. She spoke about her unique blend of ethnic heritages (“Gringa latina jew”) and introduced the four movements we played of her extraordinary quartet Milagros, written in 2010.

You can order tickets for our two concerts at Portland State University this Thursday and Friday nights by going to Third Angle’s website:

heart of darkness

It’s been quite a week. I’ve been spending the last three nights playing Georg Haas’ Third String Quartet “In Darkness”, which as you might expect, is actually performed in a completely darkened concert venue. In this case the venue was the hemispherical Kendall Planetarium at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).

I was terrified at the prospect of playing this piece when it was first pitched to me by Third Angle artistic director and violinist Ron Blessinger. I’m not a musician who is suited to memorizing material, and given that this piece was to be played in complete darkness, memorization was a given. But I overcame my initial resistance and took the plunge. I am so glad that I did. Playing this piece has been one of the musical highlights of my career thus far. The opening of my sense of hearing just by virtue of the lack of visual cues, and the need to discern harmonies and find my place in them without having the voicing worked out beforehand, was exhilarating. Embracing the improvised aspects of the piece, and savoring the extraordinary receptiveness of our audiences, was incredibly rewarding. It was in many ways all that I hoped that a musical experience could be, and by and large, our audiences and critics agreed.

Here are the five (!) reviews of the run that we’ve received so far – and if you ever get a chance to hear this piece within a three hour drive of where you live: take it. You won’t regret the experience.

march music moderne comes in like a lion

Free Marz String Trio | Photo: Charles Noble

Just like its eponymous month, March Music Moderne came in like a lion last night with the opening salvo (not including the first Thursday opening at Polish Hall) at the Community Music Center last night. This was the Bob Priest (festival organizer) produced Free Marz Trio concert that is often the highlight of each year’s festival. It was a concert on the longish side (close to 2 1/2 hours), especially given the density of the material, but it proved, even then, to be more than the sum of its parts, and infinitely rewarding.

If you attend a recital or concert with a musician, and you hear them remark at the close that they feel like going home to practice, then they were very inspired by what transpired during the concert. I felt like going home to practice, especially in light of Joël Belgique’s seemingly effortless traversals of two of Garth Knox’s Viola Spaces etudes for solo viola. The concert opened with the Viola Space #4, entitled Pizzicato: Nine Finger, a pizzicato tour de force of nearly unparalleled virtuosity. The audience was rapt as Belgique produced an incredible variety of tone colors, rhythms, and implied melodies using just eight fingers and a thumb, culminating at the end with both hands turned opposite their normal directions and strumming at the peg box end of the fingerboard. None of us could believe what we were seeing and hearing!

The concert closed with Viola Space #8, entitled Bow Directions: “Up, down, sideways, round”. Whereas the first work of the evening was all about plucking the strings, this work was all about the use of the bow in just about every possible, but non-traditional, way. It was truly a frenzy of bowing possibilities. At times it was feared that the friction might cause a fire, boy scout style, but a blaze never materialized from this blazing performance. He earned the most hearty ovations of the evening.

The Free Marz Trio at Community Music Center tonight. Superb playing!
The Free Marz String Trio at Friday’s concert. | Photo: Charles Noble

Bob Priest commissioned 10 local composers to write 1 minute marches for string trio based upon whatever aspect of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring most spoke to them, in honor of the piece’s 100th anniversary. And indeed, there were 10 very different marches on display. The most memorable were those by Robert McBride, Michael Johanson, and Bonnie Miksch, though all were expertly crafted and well written for the forces at their disposal. All were played with aplomb by the Free Marz String Trio, with some vocal utterances of exasperation after the particularly thorny work by Johanson.

MMM founder Bob Priest | Photo: Chris Leck Photography
MMM founder Bob Priest | Photo: Chris Leck Photography

The eight hundred pound gorilla of the evening was Witold Lutoslawski’s sole String Quartet (1964). Clocking in a nearly 25 minutes, it is a piece of astonishing breadth and power. It is unique in that it is one of the first works to combine notated music with aleatoric music, i.e., music in which some of the elements of the music are left up to chance and the performers, with a framework provided by the composer. As Meyer-Eppler said at one of the infamous Darmstadt new music courses, “a process is said to be aleatoric … if its course is determined in general but depends on chance in detail”. As Bob Priest noted in his brief remarks before the performance, this work perhaps represents an inner monologue of the Polish mind, having lived through the horrors of the Second World War and the subsequent horrors of the Soviet regime. It was given a towering performance by the members of the Free Marz Trio, joined by violinist and fEarNoMusic artistic director Paloma Griffin. As I tweeted right after the performance, I found myself “between loving and hating the piece, but with absolutely no ambivalence”.

Two brief works of Stravinsky received deft arrangements by Bob Priest and Jeff Winslow, and correspondingly deft performances.

Justin Kagan, cellist, was joined by Jeannie Baldwin for a lovely and impassioned performance of the Elegy movement from Elliot Carter’s Cello Sonata (1948). Kagan prefaced the performance by reading a letter from Carter to Kagan’s parents (his father, a cellist and his mother, a pianist), thanking them for performing his Sonata with such dedication.

Shostakovich’s youthful Piano Trio, Op. 8 was played by Inés Voglar Belgique, Kagan, and Baldwin. It is one of those works which could fool many in a blind hearing, or ‘drop the needle’ test, as it is unabashedly romantic in its outlook, and not at all containing any the sardonic wit or biting sarcasm that would soon creep into the composer’s works. It was given an assured and beautiful performance.

It was a highly rewarding evening that was very well attended, though there were few under the age of 50 to be found in the audience, which was a shame, since admission was free of charge. This was music that everyone should have the chance to hear.