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Baroque to basics

Musica Maestrale leads a music renaissance

Hillsboro's Walters Cultural Arts Center has become a musical equivalent to a historical re-creation park, with musicians flocking to its concert hall with every manner of authentic, centuries-old instrument in tow: everything from lutes to recorders, harpsichords and sackbuts - the trombone's great great-grandfather.

The venue has hosted everything from classical music to traditional mandolin pieces, Celtic vocal music and beyond. Even popular music has reached to the past at the center, with retro pop bands, swing groups and vocal jazz ensembles drawing audiences.

If the center is the concert-hall equivalent of a time machine, Hideki Yamaya is its most prolific traveler. A master of classical guitar, Yamaya returns to the Walters Center Friday with quintet Musica Maestrale, which specializes in 17th century Italian baroque compositions. He returns again in May with the Oregon Renaissance Band.

Yamaya, a Portland resident who earned his master's degree from the University of California, Irvine, says the goal of Musica Maestrale is to open ears to an era of music that is often overlooked in classical circles.

'This isn't music that's performed very often. When people hear the word 'baroque,' they think of Bach or Handel or Vivaldi. They don't necessarily think about 17th century music,' says Yamaya. 'I want to expose people to this kind of music, which just happens to be really beautiful. I'm gratified that people are willing to come and listen to something they've never heard before.'

The shows also offer Musica Maestrale opportunities to educate the audiences about the music and their instruments, with question-and-answer sessions following sets, explanations about the pieces and their significance, and even opportunities for people to touch the instruments.

While Musica Maestrale focuses on a very specific era of music, Yamaya says the influence of opera, baroque music and renaissance songs can still be felt in today's music, which still uses forms and structure from centuries ago.

'The influence is immense. Not just in opera, but in vocal music in general,' says Yamaya. 'And not just in classical music, but also in popular music. The foundations of harmony were laid down in this time period. Pop music probably would not be the same if it weren't for all the innovations that happened in this period.'

Does that mean that Musica Maestrale will follow in the Portland Cello Projects' shoes and begin performing modern pop songs on the period-replication instruments?

'I've joked about it. I don't know if we'd ever do a pop song,' he says with a laugh. 'But I think using some of these instruments in a pop music setting would be interesting. Why not? I can think of a few rock songs that have used harpsichord.'




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