Classical music concerts can be stuffy affairs. From archaic performance traditions to 19th-century costumes to music slavishly indebted to old European forms, even many contemporary classical concerts feel like artifacts of another era.
Then there's Daniel Brugh. In a genre populated by rule-bound retro-gazers, Brugh is Portland classical music's closest approximation of Brian Wilson, combining unbounded creativity, stage savvy and tech geekery with a childlike sense of playfulness. And in terms of presentation, he actually might be closer to the Flaming Lips. His upcoming show, Nonsense: The Fantastical Musical Multiverses of Daniel Brugh, is entirely devoted to his own offbeat vision, teeming with psychedelic lighting, theremin, nonsense poetry, costumes, giant flying fish and lots and lots of keyboards.
"I like to engage the audience," says Brugh, who was named Oregon Composer of the Year in 2010. "I'm taking the best of everything I learned from all those Cascadia concerts I've done, where the environment is really important to music, and putting it into this one."
Not surprisingly, the environment for his new show is not a typical concert hall. Rather, it's a converted Pearl District warehouse simply called PLACE. With its soaring beams and industrial architecture, Brugh says the location reminds him of playing among the tires at his dad's old trucking business. The big white walls offer an abundant palette for Brugh's expansive vision.
"Each of these pieces is so different, they could be written by different composers," he says.
He plays multiple synths in the atmospheric opener, "Extreme Gravity," and enthuses over the Roli Seaboard 49, Korg Kronos and other keyboards used throughout the show. A poem written long ago by a friend who once worked with Brugh at Portland Music supplied the text for a theatrical vocal piece about an old Alabama man's whiskey-fueled reminiscences. Another former fellow music store clerk and musician improvises clarinet over a work for fixed media. And in a setting of English nonsense poet Edward Lear's "Pelican Chorus," Brugh dons a duck costume.
"I want something that's fun, because a lot of people I know won't come to classical concerts," says Brugh, who'll also MC the evening. "I'm gonna be their guide. If it makes no sense, that's OK, because it's a concert of nonsense."
SEE IT: Nonsense: The Fantastical Musical Multiverses of Daniel Brugh is at PLACE, 735 NW 18th Ave., on Saturday, Nov. 18. 7:30 pm. Free. All ages.