Saturday, July 30, 2011

Filmusik and Federale rock the house with 'The Grand Duel'

Filmusik, Portland's homegrown musical idea whose name expresses exactly what it does, delivered another bang-up performance with the live-soundtrack rendition of 'The Grand Duel,' a spaghetti western of the best (worst?) kind Thursday night at the Hollywood Theater.

Federale, a local band who specializes in the dramatic music of the kind found in this genre, performed a live version of the soundtrack. The main theme is probably better known to most audiences from its appropriation by Quentin Tarantino for the soundtrack to 'Kill Bill Vol. 1.' The iconic harmonium melody, doubled at various times by soprano or trumpet, was accompanied by a perfect high lonesome whistle from one of the band members (and quite an excellent display of whistling prowess it was.) After all, what's spaghetti western music without the whistling?

The performance gave you everything you want from this genre, in which, let's face it, the music is much better than the film. And much more intense from being live and in your face. The film itself was a delicious, laughable bit of nonsense, full of hyperbole, melodrama, gratuitous nudity, stereotypes, and hatchet-faced Europeans with bad teeth somehow trying to pass themselves off as Americans, replete with oompa-loompa-cum-John-Boehner tans. Starring the iconic Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff out to save an innocent man from hanging and bent on revenge agains the cruel Patriarch, this film needed great music to save it from itself.

Federale betrayed a keen understanding of the musical needs of this genre, from gritty verismo atmospherics in which inglorious death is all around, to sinister carefully layered mood music, full of atonalism and sound-effects that also showcased the droning surf-rock origin behind much of the guitar work.

Another worthwhile endeavor from Galen Huckins and Filmusik, the final performance takes place tonight at 8 pm at the Hollywood Theater.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

John Richards - longtime Oregon Symphony member and tuba virtuoso passes

I've just received word that John Richards, former principal tuba of the Oregon Symphony for 53 years, died earlier today. Richards was a phenomenal musician and a real Mensch. He had a doctorate in psychology and taught a Lewis & Clark College while playing in the orchestra. He also had a huge collection of instruments. I interviewed him twice for articles that I wrote for a couple of publications (Sforzando and The Oregonian). I found out that he only needed about two or three hours of sleep to feel rested. He built instruments, arranged music, and founded the Portland version of Tuba Christmas. He will be missed.


I have just found out that a memorial service of John Richards will be held at the Agnes Flanagan Chapel of Lewis & Clark College on August 13th at 11 am.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upcoming Filmusik madness: The Grand Duel

Filmusik, the unique brainchild of Portland composer Galen Huckins that combines classic cinema with all manner of live performance elements, including live original soundtracks, voice dubbing and sound effects, is at it again this upcoming week with their new project The Grand Duel.

A spaghetti western starring the inimitable Lee Van Cleef, this film marks Filmusik's first collaboration with Federale, a local alternative band who just happens to specialize in writing and performing music that, in their own words, "recapture[s] the haunting, violent atmosphere illustrated in such classic films as A Fistful of Dollars." With their ranchero-style horns and the intensely powerful soprano of Maria Karlin, Federale, besides being an extremely talented ensemble that knows exactly how to achieve their musical goals, is a plain old-fashioned kick in the pants. Marvelously fun, Filmusik and Federale are a natural fit for each other, and for this enterprise Federale composed an entirely new soundtrack and will be on hand to perform for all three shows. The showings are Thursday July 28th, Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th at the Hollywood Theater at 8pm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting a hand in on the new edition of Grove Dictionary of American Music

Because I'm a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (see, I got the opportunity to write and/or update a number of entries to the new edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music. What started out as three or four pieces last summer ended up encompassing entries on 41 subjects. I finished the last two entires a few weeks ago.

Here's the entire lists of entries that I wrote or rewrote:

- American String Quartet
- Mark Applebaum
- Jacob D. Avshalomov
- Claude Baker
- John Barbirolli
- Mason Bates
- Thomas Beecham
- John P. Corigliano
- Helan Donath
- Brent Ellis
- Carlisle (Sessions, Jr.) Floyd
- Maureen Forrester
- Pamela Frank
- Gidon Kremer
- Kronos Quartet
- Jack Lawrence
- Robert Levin
- Keith Lockhart
- Yo-Yo Ma
- Aprile Millo
- James Morris
- Carol Neblett
- Paul Neubauer
- Yannick Nezet-Seguin
- Oregon Bach Festival
- Orion String Quartet
- Peter Oundjian
- Awadagin Pratt
- Arvo Part
- Helmuth Rilling
- Andre-Michel Schub
- Richard Sher
- Neil Shicoff
- Robert Spano
- Cheryl Studer
- Tomas Svoboda
- Carol Vaness
- Stephen Wadsworth
- Stewart Wallace

All of these are edited by academics, and almost all have been approved for print.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Oregon Arts Watch

A big welcome to Oregon Arts Watch, which debuted this week. Under music, you'll see that Brett Campbell has posted stories about the Oregon Symphony, Cappella Romana and other local music organizations.