Willamette Week: Cascadia Composers

Brett Campbell, March 20th 2009, Willamette Week

Friday’s inaugural Cascadia Composers concert at the Old Church (the third of three excellent concerts I heard there last week) produced surprisingly strong attendance  and some engaging music, beginning with a darting, rhythmically tricky firefly of a piece for flute and percussion by Dan Senn, a pretty art song by Jeff Winslow and the premiere of a little cat and mouse action for violin and xylophone by Tomas Svoboda. Cascadia organizer David Bernstein’s ardent, unabashedly neo-Romantic “Late Autumn Moods and Images” would have charmed even the hidebound contingent that resists chamber music composed before the Great War. The second half began with a harangue/performance-art incident involving an audience member who took it upon himself to alert the hall to the shameful, Cheney-esque conspiracy to suppress the no doubt magnificent sixth symphony of a composer none of them had heard of. Who says people aren’t passionate about classical music? Gary Noland’s new “Waltz Fantasy” and Jack Gabel’s 1984 “That Old Song and Dance” both looked affectionately toward music of the past, refracted through contemporary sensibilities. Noland put a modern twist on a Strauss-style waltz, while Gabel, as so many composers throughout the millennia have done, used familiar folk tunes (the medieval ditty “Tristan’s Lament” and an Irish jig ) as kernels for a thoroughly modern and winning work. Greg Steinke’s closing string quartet “Expressions on the Paintings of Edvard Munch” imaginatively evoked not just the subjects of three Munch paintings (whose images were helpfully included in the program), but also the painter’s expressionist renderings of those subjects. “The Scream,” of course, used Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking “Psycho” strings, while “The Dance of Life” used, what else, various dance rhythms.