Woodwinds transform differences into beauty

It’s a little weird to group everyone in the Woodwind Area together for one recital, but that’s what the Portland State School of Music & Theater did at their noon concert recital on Thursday, April 12 in Lincoln Recital Hall.

The fundamental strength of the classical woodwind groups is their diversity: Every instrument has its own unique character, with a myriad of subtle flavors and richly varied acoustic colorings, and the same plurality that makes blending difficult makes it rewarding.

The show opened with a quartet of bassoons, playing Brazilian composer Zequinha de Abreu’s choro “Tico-Tico no Fubá” or “Sparrow in the Cornmeal.” You’d likely recognize this tune from the old Disney film Saludos Amigos. The four bassoonists—Joseph Princena, Alexander Ledesma, Joseph Venetucci and PSU Professor Evan Kuhlmann—performed a rendition of Eduardo Albuerme’s arrangement, setting a whimsical tone. Ledesma popped right back out for an unaccompanied solo for “Valsa Improvisada,” by Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone.

Three sonata movements followed: two from the late-Romantic French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and one from the Pulitzer Prize–winning American composer Howard Hanson. Collaborative piano guru Chuck Dillard’s reliably pleasant playing supported Artyon Kemenyash’s clarinet and Lynn Bauscher’s oboe on the two Saint-Saëns sonatas. Ray McKean took over to accompany flutist Jarod Pereda for the Hanson Serenade. All three were lovely but short, leaving me hungry for the other movements. I was especially pleased and impressed by Bauscher’s sweet, rich, melancholy tone—no mean feat on the historically difficult double-reed oboe. Kemenyash was a treat to hear as usual, and Pereda delivered Hanson’s modernist minor thirds and major sevenths with a clear, slightly breathy tone, deftly navigating a whole bunch of sparkling flourishes straight out of Debussy.

PSU flute Professor Sydney Carlson joined two of her students, Cong Xu and Alexis Deona, for US composer Nicole Chamberlain’s “Percolate,” the first truly contemporary piece on the program. Modernist harmonies, changing meters and a whole bevy of fancy extended techniques were interspersed with gorgeous, uncanny snippets of Tchaikovskyan fairy dance. The flutists stomped on the ground, clicked their keys, bent a bunch of notes and did all the other cool stuff that makes modern flute music so damned interesting. “Percolate” turned out to be an audience fave, coaxing a loud “ha!”, an enthusiastic whistle and other sounds of surprised delight.

Next up, playing the first movement of Sean Osborn’s Quartet No. 1, was the PSU Clarinet Ensemble. The group—Kemenyash, Cane Carr, Taylor Duarte, Scott Swope, Danielle Blaser, Luis Ortiz and bass clarinetist Andrei Morelos—seemed to be a subset of Woodwind Area Coordinator Dr. Barbara Heilmair’s wonderful Zephyr Clarinet Choir. Osborn’s music is soft, warm and a little bland, like freshly baked bread: perfect clarinet choir music, in other words, and a nice palette cleanser after the Chamberlain.

The saxophones came out to close the show with one of the earliest compositions for sax quartet, the 1879 Allegro de Concert of New York composer William James Robjohn, known professionally as Caryl Florio. The quartet was composed of Sarah Lang-Wright, Amanda Chan, Javier Prado, and Jocelyn Hernandez, who all showed off their individual and ensemble chops while playing Florio’s decidedly unmodern music with a subtle grace we normally hear only from string quartets.

After the show, PSU Music Theory student Aaron Richardson called Bauscher’s tone “nice and ringing.” “I thought the concert was great, all the music was around the same style but really enjoyable, good playing all around,” said music education major Zack. “I just started my first year, so I’ve been going to all the noon concerts this year, and they’re all really good.”

I felt like a starstruck fanboy approaching oboist Bauscher, surrounded by friends and admirers outside band director Pat Vandehey’s office across from the recital hall. “Lynn was brilliant, and her solo was stunning,” Vandehey said. “I haven’t heard anything quite that good since I came to Portland State.”

“I thought everyone did a really nice job,” Bauscher said. I asked how she decided to learn the Saint-Saëns. “I’m playing it for my junior recital.” Bauscher, a performance major, told me her recital is coming up: 1 p.m. on May 20, up in Lincoln’s other other recital hall, the intimate and well-lit room 326.

Several of these woodwind players have recitals coming up in Lincoln Recital Hall, room 75.

Upcoming Recital Times:

Alexander Ledesma: 6 p.m. May 25

Colton Trujillo: 2 p.m. June 3

Artyon Kemenyash:  6 p.m. June 3

Alexis Deona: 6 p.m. June 9

For more information on the School of Music & Theater’s free weekly Noon Concert Series, including a complete schedule, visit www.pdx.edu/music/noon-concert-series.