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March Music Moderne

Bob Priest carpet bombs the city with new sounds.

In 1980, young composer Bob Priest visited Poland to attend Warsaw Autumn, one of the best known annual festivals of contemporary "classical" music. He resolved to create a similar celebration of new sounds in his own city; his Seattle Spring Festival grew to include more than a dozen concerts.

Priest continued his new music advocacy when he moved to Portland, staging free-admission chamber music events under the rubric of his Marzena Performance Ensemble. Last year, he noticed that several new music events were happening in the month of March and decided to publicize a baker's dozen of those performances collectively as the first March Music Moderne festival. This year's edition, which begins Monday night, March 5, includes a staggering 28 events. 

Priest says MMM aims to "cross fertilize, invite everyone to come in, pull them together and create guilt by association." Established institutions like Friends of Chamber Music and the Oregon Symphony list their events, like FOCM's March 21 Kronos Quartet concert, on the MMM website and brochure "and it doesn't cost them anything," Priest says. "But anytime anyone goes to look up one event, they automatically see everyone else.” 

The lineup of performances, many of them free, at venues around the city is astonishingly broad, including composers and performers from Portland; Vancouver, B.C.; Eugene and Austin, Texas. There will be readings by poets and authors, film, mixed-media works, dance, soundscapes, multimedia installations, jazz and dueling theremins.

Despite its vast scope, MMM omits some of Portland's March concerts, such as Portland Opera's staging of Philip Glass' Galileo Galilei. A Columbia Symphony concert featuring a 1937 Shostakovich symphony as its "modern" offering doesn't qualify, but an Oregon Symphony concert with a 1945 Shostakovich symphony does. That not even a festival of 28 performances can encompass every event in Portland in March shows how rich the city's music scene has grown.

SEE IT: The March Music Moderne festival kicks off with a preview party featuring percussion master Florian Conzetti performing Iannis Xenakis' explosive Psappha, the 4 Celli of the Apocalypse playing Metallica and a panel discussion. 7:30 pm Monday, March 5, at Hipbone Studio, 1847 E Burnside St. Free. Full schedule at