The Chorus King
Ethan Sperry is shaking up Portland’s singers.
“Choral music at Portland State, and indeed in Portland, is back!” bellowed a beaming Bruce Browne, beloved retired director of the PSU chamber choir, at the school’s remarkable reunion concert in May 2010. Browne wasn’t the only one in the audience blown away by the performances of the student singers that day in a program that included music from Latvia, an Indian raga, an English Renaissance piece and a traditional Haitian song that had singers and audience grinning and swaying throughout.
The concert and reunion were conceived and executed by PSU’s new director of choral studies, Ethan Sperry, who was also recently named to succeed another Portland choral legend, Gil Seeley, as director of the Oregon Repertory Singers. Sperry’s accomplishments in his first year at PSU include a marvelous series of tributes to choral composer Morten Lauridsen, adding new choirs and beefing up the existing ones. His successes, along with those of other new choirs, herald a resurgence of Portland’s choral scene.
At PSU, Sperry’s students not only demonstrate vocal achievements rarely heard in college choirs, they also forge an emotional connection to audiences. “I’ve seen a lot of classical concerts where the musicians are delivering technique and not delivering the music,” Sperry says. “The audience picks up on that. Part of the reason classical music seems stuffy is that they’re just hitting the notes.” He wants his choirs to transcend that “cultural stigma” and show that “experimental and edgy” choral music “shares a lot with what Portland and Northwest artists enjoy. ”
Although he insists on technical mastery, Sperry also invests considerable time helping singers understand and elucidate the meaning composers are trying to convey. He encourages emotional responses that bring music to life.
“Most people go to concerts because they want to have fun and have an emotional connection with the music or with the performers,” he explains. “Our goal is to communicate with the audience and give them an emotional experience. Getting the notes right helps, but that’s not the goal of the performance. There’s always another note you can get just right. If your goal in concert is to communicate and share, then you can be really happy with what you accomplished.” BRETT CAMPBELL.
HEAR IT: Oregon Repertory Singers welcomes Sperry at Renewal, at 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 15, at Lincoln Hall at PSU, 1620 SE Park Ave., and 7:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 16, at First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Tickets at 230-0652.
More Classical and World Music
Oregon Symphony, Dawn Upshaw
One of the most compelling and adventurous singers alive returns to join the orchestra in Benjamin Britten’s The Illuminations and American songs and music by Gershwin and Walton. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, orsymphony.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 1. $25-$90.
Fear No Music presents A Piano Riot!
Multiple pianos and percussion combine in music by contemporary South African/California composer Shaun Naidoo, Lutoslawski and the four-piano version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., fearnomusic.org. 8 pm Sunday, Oct. 9. Ticket price TBA.
Third Angle, One Mississippi
In late 2009, the experimentalist/postminimalist New York composer Eve Beglarian spent more than four months paddling and pedaling down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans, talking to and performing for people who live along the way, recording the sounds she heard and writing music that reflected the journey. The Northwest’s finest new music ensemble and the superb musicians of Eugene’s Beta Collide will play it, plus a new work, Third Angle, commissioned from Beglarian. Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St., thirdangle.org. 7:30 pm Friday, Oct. 21. $30.
Portland Chamber Orchestra presents Halloween Monsterbash
The ensemble celebrates Halloween with the Northwest premiere of German composer HK Gruber’s wild “pandemonium for singer and ensemble,” Frankenstein!!, plus the world premiere of electronica composer Duncan Neilson’s animation-enhanced The Monster, which tells the Frankenstein story from the monster’s perspective. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., portlandchamberorchestra.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 22. $15-$20.
Friends of Chamber Music brings the New York ensemble back to town for an early celebration of John Cage’s centenary. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 Woodstock Blvd., focm.org, 7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 24. $14-$40.