"Why Don't You Tell Me. Is This Rapture?"

If rapture is a state of overwhelming emotion, or the feeling of being transported to a heavenly place, then yes Antony, last night was rapture.

It is because your show with the Oregon Symphony sold out that Waist High had never been more proud to live in the city of Portland Oregon, and had never been so honored to be able to be among it's greatest and most beautiful; the bloggers and the writers, Gus Van Sant, those who believe in the miracle of music.

Words fail me now. All this humble blogger can manage to say is that she witnessed something beyond magnificent. Well that, and she will never ever be able to look at Beyonce the same way again.

Stephen Marc Beaudoin has managed to be a little bit more eloquent:
One long droning tone in the dark, and Portland's Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival was changed forever.

As indie pop sensation Antony Hegarty's glass-fragile voice shimmered out into the Arlene Schnitzer Hall in Friday night's official TBA 2008 opening concert, you heard not only the striking sound of a vanguard chamber pop sensation strutting his stuff on a legendary Portland stage, you also heard the boom of a local contemporary arts festival that just exploded into the international firmament.

Maybe I'm overstating the impact Hegarty's 90-minute emotional tour de force performance, in collaboration with his band The Johnsons and the Oregon Symphony, will have on TBA's future standing in the world of contemporary performance. But consider these facts: the festival sold more tickets to Friday's single show than in any other show in its five-year history (reportedly at near-capacity in the Schnitz, a 2,800-seat hall); Hegarty's TBA symphonic appearance was one of only three scheduled in the US in 2008 (the others are Los Angeles and New York City); and the crowd greeted the concert with the most rattling ovation heard at any Portland concert in this writer's memory.

That ovation came from an outrageously beautiful assortment of fans, from high femme girly-boys with chest hair spilling out of tight v-necks to bespectacled silver-maned couples in their Symphony best. Would this motley audience ever be assembled under any other circumstance?

The crowd's adoring response was well earned. Soaring and stammering through tears in a dramatic show of original tunes and freshly conceived covers, Hegarty - two albums down and on track to release his third, The Crying Light, in early 2009 - proved to be growing into a performer of considerable skill and uncommon shadings. His much-revered voice - layers of Nina and Billie, with folk and Baroque accents - sounded healthier than ever. If any classical music snobs were looking to mock a self-described "untrained musician," they would have gone home empty-handed; Hegarty has exquisite color and control, innate musicality and as flawless intonation as any first-rate classical concert singer like Dawn Upshaw or Ian Bostridge.

That he was sharing the stage with Portland's own Oregon Symphony (Gregory Vajda, conducting with feeling on short notice), then, seemed entirely appropriate. Blowing up chamber pop to orchestral proportions is a dicey endeavor, but savvy young composer Nico Muhly's arrangements, imaginative and spare, are pure ear candy. The arrangements often manage to improve upon some of Hegarty's original tunes, even as they expand them to heart-bursting proportions.

Muhly also succeeds in pulling off a wondrous coup de theatre with his beautifully calibrated orchestration, featuring mandolin, oboe and chimes, of r & b star Beyonce's 2007 hit, "Crazy in Love." With Hegarty's pained bleat articulating every exposed lyric in an unrecognizably slow tempo - "It's the way that you know what I thought I knew/It's the beat that my heart skips when I'm with you" - the song emerged from the glittery dust of Beyonce's baroque roulades as a guttural cry for delivery from one's own love-mania, bathed in gold light and full of pathos. It was completely gripping, and one of the concert's highlights.

There were many others, but one of the most affecting moments came early in the night. In a song describing love's most elemental tortures ("Cripple and the Starfish"), Hegarty looped his voice on torturous repeat, singing over and over, "I am very happy/please hurt me/I'll grow back like a starfish." As he did, the strings of the Symphony swelled around him; his voice burst out like a wildfire spreading into every corner of the hall, his body shook. As the lyric in that song goes, my jaw dropped to the floor, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house, or at least in my corner of Row N.

Photo: The Waist High Collection
Material, used with permission: Stephen Marc Beaudoin at