More Modern Music
Eugeneans also enriched Portland’s music scene (and brought samples from another of the city’s finest exports with them) at Thursday night’s March Music Moderne concert by Eugene’s Cherry Blossom Arts at BodyVox dance studio. The music came from Cherry Blossom’s Paul Safar, Robert Erickson (a wild trumpet solo played vivaciously by UO music prof Brian McWhorter), Portland’s Jack Gabel (accompanying a video by Agnieszka Laska that I praised in an earlier performance by Cascadia Composers) and former University of Oregon music professor Derek Healey, who’s now retired and living in Brooklyn but made it out to Portland for the premiere of his 2011 dramatic monologue, The Coast of Oregon. Healey’s epic setting of selections from the prose poem of that title by Canadian poet Norman Newton (who died in December but whose family members attended) stretches more than half an hour. The colorful story traces a journey the poet made in the 1980s, exploring his notion (based on research from Mexican sources) that Aztlan, the mythical land of emperor Montezuma’s ancestors, was actually in Oregon, and he mounted an expedition to find it, before the conquistador Cortez destroyed his empire.
Healey’s music, while often mysterious and beguiling, didn’t vary its texture much, despite the episodic nature of the texts used, which would seem to lend themselves to greater differentiation among the musical components.That sameness imposed an enormous theatrical as well as musical burden on the singer at the center of it all, Cherry Blossom’s Nancy Woods, who came through marvelously with a bravura, sometimes snarling performance (for part of the tale, the encounter between Native Americans and conquistadores, is not a happy one, despite the presence of chocolate) that seized the audience’s attention and never let go. Wood’s powerful, extremely theatrical delivery (essential in a piece of this scale) was ably supported from a focused accompaniment by Northwest New Music’s Diane Chaplin on cello (including some gorgeous dialogues with Wood), Florian Conzetti on percussion and Sydney Carlson on flute, with Safar at piano, all carefully conducted and held together by Keith Clark. The group, and MMM, deserve plaudits for bringing this important new work to the stage.
Two of Safar’s engaging pieces received dance performances dancers from BodyVox and Portland Festival Ballet. In the former, the choreography and music were developed separately (“like a blind date,” Safar’s brother noted) a la John Cage (patron saint of this MMM festival) and Merce Cunningham, which was a practical convenience given the bi-metropolitan nature of the collaboration. In a move that would probably have irritated Classical Revolution’s Mattie Kaiser, Safar based his piece on the letters of Cage’s name and chose text (declaimed by Eugene singer Ty Connor) from Cage’s writings and other sources associated with him. Unsurprisingly for a group as narratively oriented as BodyVox, the dance told a kind of story, and half the fun was seeing how the twain met, or didn’t. (I keep teasing Kaiser about her anti-Cage protest at the outset of MMM, but to be fair, she never said she didn’t like Cage: she just didn’t want us to imagine that music he wrote half a century ago was new, and she’s right.) It would have been better to have dance throughout the piece, as the narration alone wasn’t so gripping, but Safar was wise enough to keep it concise.
The other dance settings of Safar’s jazz tinged works by Portland Festival Ballet choreographers John Magnus and Lavinia Magliocco, wittily used the student dancers’ classical training and gestures. The program felt a little long, but it’s hard to blame this prolific and accomplished group for going all out in its first official Portland production (both Safar and Woods have appeared here often with Cascadia Composers), and the collaborations added a dimension to MMM’s scope.
Cherry Blossom Musical Arts: Press
Art Music Vaudeville
Cherry Blossom showcases local artists
By Brett Campbell
Cherry Blossom Musical Arts has been one of the most exciting recent additions to Eugene’s performing arts scene, and the “art music vaudeville” company has been, well, blossoming, with performances at the Oregon Country Fair and in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. On Nov. 15, Cherry Blossom presents its latest visual music fundraiser at the UO’s Agate Hall. In return for supporting one of the city’s wellsprings of original art, you’ll get locally baked sweet treats; a new duet by Portland’s superb Agnieszka Laska Dancers set to original music by Cherry Blossom’s Paul Safar and Nancy Wood; more of Safar’s music, including a new string quartet, “Stella’s Waltz” for piano and ballerina and more; various Cherry Blossom video projects; and some of the city’s finest classical musicians, jugglers, tap dancers and other off-center cabaret acts.
The key to artistic progress is often collaboration-artists from various fields working together, hanging out together, creating together. Unfortunately, too many forces conspire to separate artists, so it's been gratifying to see opportunities emerging recently for progressive artistic collaboration in Eugene. One is Cherry Blossom Musical Arts, which created last year's children's music theater production "Nisse's Dream", which sold out every show. Next weekend, Cherry Blossom convenes a broad specrum of Northwest artists at Lord Leebrick Theater for what promises to be the most compelling show of the season for regional performers, creators and arts lovers."
On Visual Music 2006-
"See how directors Nancy Wood and Paul Safar, with bold-hearted simpatico, invite dancers,poets and musicians to co-create new-sprung audacious theater."
"Nisse's Dream, an original children's musical thater production by Eugeneans Paul Safar and Nancy Wood, is that rare breed of kid's entertainment: It's fun. It's wholesome. It has a positive message. And the kids you know will love it anyway, without even realizing they're learning something in the process."
"Nisse's Dream is a lovely, high quality project full of sweetness and charm"
On Nisse's Dream CD
"The music is wonderful and the story and delivery are fun"
"Nisse's Dream is an upbeat musical performed by excellent musicians and singers. It's original, non-commercial, non-violent and home grown, while at the same time sounding professional and smooth. The music is sophisticated, far more complex than people often think kids will listen to, and it exposes complicated music to children in a very attractive package. Many songs beautifully blend two messages simultaneously. Nisse's Dream is playing on stage this summer, August 12-21 at the Lord Leebrick Theater. If you get a chance to see it, your kids will likely love it. My kids did.